About ten minutes into the review screening of the surprisingly moving and not-so-surprisingly entertaining Glee concert movie, I whispered to the Gleek I was allowed to bring, “This is gayer than a leather man in an Easter bonnet.” The hit TV show about a high school show choir from which the concert movie sprang is also pretty gay, not just because it features a half dozen gay or bisexual characters, but because it’s unabashedly flamboyant, over-dramatic, ironic, heartfelt, and camp. And this is all a good thing: despite its inconsistencies and missteps, Glee is fabulous TV.
But the concert movie (which is inexplicably and unnecessarily in 3-D) goes beyond just re-staging performances of some of the shows most famous numbers; much of the film is about Glee’s fans, or Gleeks. While, yes, there are straight male fans of Glee (or so I’ve heard), most Gleeks are women, especially young ones, and gay men. This is pretty clear from interviews of concert goers and shots of them dancing and cheering. But the in-depth interviews of three Gleeks which run through the whole film are not focused on stuff like “OMG! BLAINE IS SO CUTE!” Rather, they are about how the show has inspired them.
One of the three is a young gay man, but the other two are just as queer – they’re just as different. Reed, the gay man, was bullied in school, and he learned from the character of Kurt (Chris Colfer) to be proud of who he was, even if he was alone. Janae, a girl with Asperger’s Syndrome, isolated herself from the world until she met Heather Morris (who plays Brittany), whose kindness inspired her to be a better person and try to inspire others. And the third, Josey, is a cheerleader – “a real life Cheerio,” referencing the nickname for cheerleaders in Glee — who is also a dwarf. She is one of the most popular kids at her school, both in spite of and because of her difference.
The central conceit of Glee is the celebration of, the owning of your own difference. It would seem self-congratulatory of Glee’s producers to show how profoundly affected its fans were (see, for example, the Justin Bieber and Hannah Montana movies) if the effects were not so profoundly moving.
Oh, and the concert? That’s pretty great, too. One of the most common and pointed criticism of Glee is the overuse of the computer program Autotune to fix the pitch of any off-key singing from the cast. No one, especially not high school students, sound that good all of the time. It was hard for me to tell if the live singing was autotuned, but it didn’t seem to be lip-synced, which, to me, matters more. The best singers – Lea Michele (Rachel), Amber Riley (Mercedes), Colfer, Kevin McHale (Arties), and Darren Criss (Blaine) – sound great, even when they’re dancing. But the weaker singers, in particular Cory Monteith (Finn) and Diana Agron (Quinn), are conveniently overshadowed by the music, which seemed to have been deliberately amped up to drown out their vocals.
As in the TV show, the group numbers in the film tend to be more spectacular than the solos (though Riley and Michele’s are both stunning). Both the opener, their signature version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” and the closer, a recreation of their inspired rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” showcase great choreography and cast chemistry. The three songs Criss and his army of a capella singing, perfectly synched back-up dancers are given in the middle of the film are another highlight, as they were in the show last year.
That Criss’s Blaine, who plays Kurt’s boyfriend, is now a teen heartthrob makes me hopeful. But not as hopeful, even overjoyed, as I felt hearing the screening audience’s reaction to Reed saying that he is now proud to say that he’s gay. Three-quarters of the theater were kids from Chula Vista High School. They cheered for Reed.
Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie
Directed by Kevin Tancharoen
Starring Lea Michele, Chris Colfer, and Cory Monteith
At your local multiplex
Anyway, Day 21 is is perfect for today, since it’s my birthday. And I’m happy, not least because my Facebook wall is overloaded with people writing “Happy Birthday!” on it. It’s wonderfully moving seeing these things from people who I’ve never met in person, from my oldest friends, from my newest friends, even from my nursery school teacher. But today’s song is way too similar to Day 3’s, which is a song that makes me happy. I guess one is a song that if it comes on, I’m happy, and today is a song that I put on because I’m happy. I think they’re somewhat interchangeable, and I could answer “Express Yourself” again, but I think that would be cheating.
Anyway, I’ve found myself listening to Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” when I’m in a great mood recently, and it is very happy-making. It’s her first and best song. And, because it’s my birthday, I’m going to be happy for longer than four minutes, and I’m adding on Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the USA,” which I just adore in so many, admittedly wrong, ways. For me, it’s pure joy.
It’s that time of year again! First up, the Golden Teddy Awards for Most Excellence in Music.
Most Excellence in Wrongness
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8qE6WQmNus]Bob Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart is both genius and terrifying. One friend said that “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” “is a threat” and another said that “O’ Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fidelis)” “sounds likes a demonic incantation.” The album is the soundtrack for the next train to Wrongville. And yet I’ve found it hypnotic and, um, fun. If you think of Bob doing these songs at a drunken — very, very drunken — Irish bar on Christmas night, it sort of makes sense. Like the Pogues, minus a few gallons of whiskey.
Most Excellence in the Use of the Whole Rest
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIEOZCcaXzE]From 3:47 to 3:54 of MGMT’s brilliant dance jam paen to youth, “Kids,” all we hear are the light tapping of a drum set’s cymbals and the playing of children. And then BOOM, the refrain returns, and you’ll drive off the road if you’re dancing in your car. I’ve almost done that, well, too many times. The song is just amazing, and that moment is thrilling. I know it came out last year, but if the Grammys can nominate MGMT for Best New Artist for 2009, then I can give this song an award in 2009. So there.
Most Excellence in Auto-Tune
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7yfISlGLNU]Any song that mocks how lame many pop-rap songs are and how badly misused auto-tune can be is a winner in my book. (Yes, I have book. Really.) And the Lonely Island’s “I’m On A Boat” is quite the winner. Let’s hope it wins the Grammy for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. (Argh: Simulacra!) Andy Samberg, you’re my hero. And that’s also because…
Most Excellence in the Use of Color Me Bad’s Goodwill Donation
…he and Justin Timberlake made the best sequel since Empire Strikes Back. “Mother Lover,” the follow-up to the Emmy-winning “Dick in a Box,” has the two douches getting out of prison, realizing that they missed Mother’s Day, and come up with a plan to, yes, fuck each other’s mothers. Oddly, the song is sweet. And it has these lyrics (among others):
AS & JT: ’cause every Mother’s Day needs a Mother’s Night
If doing it is wrong, I don’t wanna be right
I’m callin’ on you ’cause I can’t do it myself
to me you’re like a brother, so be my mother lover
AS: I’m layin’ in the cut waitin’ for your mom
clutchin’ on this lube and roses
JT: I got my digital camera, I’m gonna make your momma do a million poses
AS: They will be so surprised
JT: We are so cool and thoughtful
AS: Can’t wait to pork your mom
JT: I’m gonna be the syrup, she can be my waffle
Most Excellence in Cheesy Pop
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M11SvDtPBhA]Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the USA” has been ubiquitous for the last eight months or so, and rightfully so. This is a perfect pop song, and makes you want to dance, sweatermonkeys, DANCE. But it’s also about how awesome music is and how music and dancing can make you feel at ease in the world, part of something, and just fine:
So I put my hands up
They’re playing my song
And the butterflys fly away
Noddin’ my head like yeah
Moving my hips like yeah
And I got my hands up
They’re playin my song
I know I’m gonna be ok
Yeah, it’s a party in the USA
And I dig this video in all of it’s aesthetic mash-up of the Dirty South and slumming Silverlake. Also, Miley’s grown up and looks hawt. Suck it, haterz.
Most Excellence in Avant Garde (or “Smelly Cheese”) Pop
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAYBMx_HpME]Usually when pop singers “repackage” their albums, it’s usually with a few not-so-great add-ons and a vague name change (like Rihanna did with Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded or Eminem is doing with Relapse: Refill), all in order to keep said singer on the charts until the next full release comes out. However, the eight new songs on Lady Gaga’s Fame Monster, a repackaged version of The Fame, could have comprised an album — a very weird and totally amazing dance pop record. The song here, “Telephone,” which features Beyonce, has lyrics so strange they could have been written by Miss Fierce in her “Bootylicious” phase. As Perez Hilton said about the track, Gaga took it to the “next NEXT level!!!” Lady Gaga is a pop genius. (Here’s a guy doing an acoustic medley of her hits, in case you’re wondering if its the production or the songwriting that makes her great. It’s the latter.)
Most Excellence in Over-Produced Bombast
Who knew? Jordan Catalano, er, I mean Jared Leto screamed his way through the first two albums he and his brother and their band 30 Seconds to Mars made, and while I occasionally listened to a whole song if I heard it on the radio, I never thought they’d do something Golden Teddy-worthy. (I’m pretty sure having Flood and Steve Lillywhite as producers helped.) But “Kings and Queens” rocks. It’s so over-done, over-the-top, and opaque, and yet, it makes me feel proud and moved and sentimental; shivers go up my spine when I hear it. This video is amazing, despite the loving close-ups of Jordan’s, I mean Jared’s, face. It never crossed my mind that a bunch of freaky-deaky Critical Massers could elucidate and encapsulate this song. But they did. (Note: The rest of the album is not so good.)
Most Excellence in Old Home Week
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0mhrqfeFjQ]I haven’t loved a Pearl Jam album in 10 years, but I ♥ Backspacer, in particular this track, “Just Breathe.” Gorgeous.
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNIcVTmUSOU]Whitney Houston’s I Look to You was never going to put Whitney back on top of the charts, but it’s a damn fine album, with some great songs and some great singing. The best song is “Million Dollar Bill,” written by Alicia Keys.
Most Excellence in Live Performance
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUF-wLL9_EI]Not only is REM’s Live at the Olympia the best sounding live album I’ve ever heard (thank you, technology!), it’s also an awesome collection of songs and patter. Michael Stipe is in a bizarrely good mood. And they rock on these tunes.
Most Excellent Reason Thank American Idol
I’ve written extensively about Adam Lambert, so I won’t add much here. But I just want to add that his performances on American Idol last season were fucking amazing. Here’s one of my favorites.
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQbIXDRGC60]Kelly Clarkson put out an another awesome pop album this year — and this one is a helluva lot more cheerful than the previous one, which bombed. The title track “All I Ever Wanted” hasn’t been released as a single yet, but it’s my favorite on the album. Here’s her doing it live on British TV.
Most Excellence in Being Siouxsie and the Banshees, But Not Really
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmGNo8RL5kM]When the Yeah Yeah Yeahs got all dance-y It’s Blitz, Karen O’s inner Siouxsie really came through. She even looks like her. But damn, it’s an awesome album. Try not dancing to it. I dare you.
Most Excellence in Twee
Owl City’s “Fireflies” is both annoying and adorable. I turn it up when it comes on the radio. Who knew that someone could steal Death Cab For Cutie’s sound and make a monstrous Top 40 hit with it?
Five Most Excellent Albums
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HgwWTxTwSE]The Very Best’s Warm Heart of Africa is world music fused with alt rock. Magical and addictive. This is the best album I’ve heard this year.
Morrissey’s Years of Refusal. It almost sounds like a Smith’s record. Great songwriting: simple, catchy, funny.
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLLxdcrk0-s]The Gossip’s Music For Men is simply brilliant dance rock. It’s crazy success in the UK is yet another reason why their music scene is to be envied. US radio refuses to get behind anything remotely gay.
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjIErrcr75A]The Soundtrack to The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Well, it’s possible for a craptastic movie to have an AMAZING soundtrack. While the screenwriter and director must abide by the book and it’s wretchedly silly aesthetics, the music supervisor doesn’t. Woohoo! “No Sound But the Wind” by Editors and “The Violet Hour” by Sea Wolf are particularly awesome. This Death Cab For Cutie song here is actually one of the weaker tracks.
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYDhw8_lAn0]The Dead Weather’s Horehound is another Jack Black concept album, and arguably it’s the best non-White Stripes thing he’s done. It’s art rock at its artiest and most rockin’.
Five Most Excellent Singles
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HL548cHH3OY]There was no better single this year than “1901” by Phoenix.
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnhXHvRoUd0]I love Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody”. Fuck off, indy rock snobs.
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tl3zhbWrBY]The first time I heard Band of Skulls singing “I Know What I Am,” I said, “Oh. My. God. Now that’s a rock and roll song.”
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UjsXo9l6I8]When I hear Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’s “Empire State of Mind,” I want to get up and drive, fly, run, ski, sled, skip, pogo, or walk home to New York.
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9cXLFk65y4]If Tilda Swinton and Kyle Minogue had a disco-diva love children, s/he would make something like La Roux’s “Bulletproof.”
CLARIFICATION: This is the post from which the other “3 things about Adam Lambert” posts originated. I split them up. For the post of the Out kerfuffle, go here. For the post about the AMAs performance, go here. This post is now just a review of the album.
And then there’s the album. I listened to it streaming on iLike several times, and now I’ve got the whole thing on my iPod. It’s a good pop album, but it is not a Great Album that transcends Top 40. There are some great songs, some great vocals — some really great vocals — and some great fun. It’s at its best when it’s Bowie-meets-Gaga-after-drinks-with-Madonna, and at its worst when it’s Chris Daughtry songs with Adam Lambert’s voice. There are some tracks that were clearly focus-grouped and/or forced on the album by executives, and the whole thing is wildly over-produced. I mean, did they really need that many instruments, that many vocal loops, and that much sound? Still, it’s one of the better 19-controlled post-“Idol” albums. Here’s my track-by-track reviewlet:
“Music Again.” Written by Justin Hawkins of The Darkness. It sounds like slightly watered-down Darkness song, complete with the dog-whistle high notes in the refrain. It’s thematically apt, and it’s hooky. Good.
“For Your Entertainment.” Written by Lukasz Gottwald (Dr. Luke) and Claude Kelly. Despite the hard-to-hear and weirdly over-sung version on the AMAs, this is a great dance pop song. It’s aggressive and thuddy, and I want to dance when I hear it. Granted, since it was released a few weeks ago, I’ve listened to it at least a few dozen times, so it’s a Pavlovian response at this point.
“Whataya Want From Me.” Written by P!nk, Max Martin, and Shellback. This is the best song and best track on the album. Adams sounds fantastic when he’s controlled, and the song, as written, is clear and emotionally resonant. And oddly, considering Max Martin’s presence, it’s subtle. But it’s crazy catchy, too, so that’s got the Swedish Svengali written all over it.
“Strut.” Written by Adam, Kara DioGuardi, and Greg Wells. This track doesn’t do anything for me. It sounds like the less interesting baby brother of “For Your Entertainment” or “Fever.” Also, Adam sounds like he’s sneering. Which makes sense if you think strutting is obnoxious, instead of confident.
“Soaked.” Written by Matthew Bellamy of Muse. Oh, thank God for Muse. This isn’t quite as great as anything on Muse’s last couple albums, but Bellamy knows how to take the theatrics of 70s arena rock and retrofit it for the 21st century. I can’t imagine it as a single, unless of course 94.9 in San Diego realized that Adam doing Muse is about as “alternative” as you can get. However, I can also imagine Liza Minnelli doing this song well, too. Hmm.
“Sure Fire Winners.” Written by David Gamson, Alexander James, and Oliver Lieber. This is “We Are The Champions” channeled by some studio jockeys who enjoy sampling whatever beats are on the Top 40 right now. (One of these guys is responsible for “Forever Your Girl,” another was in Blur, and the third is an industry stand-by.) Not good. Though I adore the line “my baby clothes made of leather and lace.” Snicker.
“A Loaded Smile.” Written by Linda Perry. As pretty as this song is, and as retro cool as the production is, I keep listening to it over and over so that I can say something about it, but I get so bored that I wander off to something else and forget that I was supposed to be paying attention, so then I listen to it again and the same thing happens, again.
“If I Had You.” Written Max Martin, Shellback, and Savan Kotecha. This is a Kelly Clarkson song (that she would probably find annoying) with Adamized lyrics. It’s catchy but cynical.
“Pick U Up.” Written by Rivers Cuomo, Greg Wells, and Adam. This sounds like a cast-off from a Weezer album. It should have been cast-off from this one, too. Adam sounds good, especially in the refrain, but it’s boring. This would have been a good place for some brilliant re-envisioned cover.
“Fever.” Written by Lady Gaga and Jeff Bhasker. This is the only song where Adam explicitly addresses a man as a love-interest (and I’m not the only one who noticed this). This is sad, but I guess it was a cynical decision based on the naked homophobia of American radio. But damn: This song is hot and sexy and “ménage à trois” is repeated a lot. The beat is dirty and so very Gaga, and it’s the bomb. The bomb, I tell you.
“Sleepwalker.” Written by Ryan Tedder, Aimee Mayo, and Chris Lindsey. This track has gotten some bad reviews, but even though it is embedded in a wall of sound, which I don’t always like, its bombast makes me think of a delightfully dramatic love child of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Sowing the Seeds of Love.”
“Aftermath.” Written by Adam, Alisan Porter, Ferras, and Ely Rise. This is a Chris Daughtry song. And I’m sick of Chris Daughtry.
“Broken Open.” Written by Greg Wells, Adam, and Evan Bogart. This sounds like a Matt Alber song. Gorgeous.
“Time For Miracles.” Written by Alain Johannes and Natasha Shneider. As much as this song is 90s Diane Warren retread — and since it’s the theme from 2012, it’s practically a clone of her “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” from Armageddon — I just love it. I feel dirty for loving it, but it’s such a great tune. It’s produced right, and it’s sung brilliantly.
“Master Plan.” Bonus Track. Written by Ryan Tedder. Awful, if catchy. “Bonus” is clearly a misnomer. Though I must say I like the fact that it could be interpreted as a sung manifesto for the Gay Agenda.
“Down the Rabbit Hole.” Bonus Track. Written by Adam, Greg Wells, and Evan Bogart. Since it is trapped on the overpriced iTunes-only album, I haven’t heard it yet. This would be one of the best songs on the album. I can’t fathom why it’s a “Bonus” not in the place of, say, “Sure Fire Winners.” It’s raucous electro-rock with a Darkness, Franz Ferdinand edge. Awesome.
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0gghjczAt0] So, Spin, Rolling Stone, and Entertainment Weekly all declared that TV on the Radio’s Dear Science was the best album of 2008, and the band didn’t get a single Grammy nomination. Meanwhile, Kid Rock got a nomination for a song built entirely on a Lynyrd Skynyrd hook. And the Christianist boy bandJonas Brothers, who were spit out by the Random Pop Star GeneratorTM, were short-listed for Best New Artist. I know that the Grammys have been a joke for decades, but still.
Most Excellent Album from Any Source.
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7mMoc-x_v0] TV on the Radio’s Dear Science is the best possible outcome for the freak show love child of David Bowie, Beck, Prince, and the Talking Heads. With distortion. Or something like that. It’s accessible, danceable art rock with slam poetry lyrics.
Most Excellent Album More than 75% Computer Generated.
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7FUMLIG03k] I just listed to Robyn’s Robyn for the bazillioninth time while making my fabu white and green bean salad, and I still love it, especially this song here on the left. It’s the album that Britney Spears would make if she had talent. And how can you not love someone who describes herself as the “most killingest pop star on the planet. A pint-sized atom bomb dosed to the tits on electric and dispensing wisdom in three-minute modernist pop bulletins on the post-adolescent condition.” They’re not modernist, actually. Even though “postmodernist” wouldn’t be exactly right, it’s the closest word we have.