5 Rock Songs That Slyly Reference 5 Other Rock Songs

Before they were rock stars, they were fans:  impressionable kids who scoured the racks at their local record shops looking for something, a single or an album that would change their lives.  Once they found it, they took it home and played it to death while obsessing over every detail of the packaging until it was all committed to memory.  Then they would return to find something new and repeat the process all over again.

Even after they started their own bands and achieved their own level of success, they never stopped being fans.  From time to time, they even recorded their own versions of their childhood favourites with varying results.

But sometimes the best way to pay tribute to a classic song is to be subtle.  Instead of doing a full throttle remake, why not just make a quick passing reference in one of your originals?  Like a direct lyric lift or a sample.

These five bands did just that:

1. Rush honours Simon & Garfunkel in The Spirit Of Radio (1980)

Drummer Neil Peart was a fan of CFNY, the tiny FM alternative rock station that would introduce the likes of Elvis Costello, the Sex Pistols, U2 and countless other cutting edge acts to Toronto-area listeners beginning in 1978 while also playing the latest from Neil Young and The Who, two revered influences on the burgeoning movement.

As a tribute to the station, Peart wrote the lyrics to The Spirit Of Radio, one of CFNY’s early ad slogans, which became one of the key singles from the 1980 album, Permanent Waves.

In the final reggae section of the song, singer/bassist/keyboardist Geddy Lee sings:

“For the words of the profits are written on the studio walls/Concert hall”

That’s a sly reference to this lyric from Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sounds Of Silence:

“And the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls/And tenement halls”

Peart was mocking the corroding influence of the commercial music business on individual creativity.

Ironically, The Spirit Of Radio would only receive sporadic airplay on CFNY, much to Rush’s disappointment.  It would be spun far more often on local competing classic rock stations.  In fact, it still is.  It wasn’t until Catherine Wheel was commissioned by the station to do a cover for the Spirit Of The Edge Vol. 2 compilation in 1996 that the song, albeit in this remade form, was finally put in high rotation.

2. Bush references David Bowie in Everything Zen (1994)

Ultimately derided as Nirvana clones (they were really trying to sound like The Pixies), this English foursome couldn’t produce enough modern rock hits to ever win over their increasingly unimpressed critics.

Their first album, Sixteen Stone, quietly debuted just before Christmas in late 1994 and would go on to spawn five singles which flooded alt-rock stations for the next two years.  (The last one, Machinehead, continues to be a jock anthem at numerous sporting events today, most notably hockey.)

Of all the Sixteen Stone hits, none was better than their debut offering, Everything Zen.  At the start of the second verse, singer Gavin Rossdale sings:

“Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow/Dave’s on sale again”

After the massive UK success of his fifth album, The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars in 1972, David Bowie’s record company RCA decided to release a single from his previous LP, Hunky Dory, in order to cash in on his sudden fame the following year.

Smart move.  Life On Mars? went on to become a Top 5 smash despite being two years old.  (Strangely, it was never released as a single in North America.)  At the start of the second verse, Bowie sings:

“It’s on America’s tortured brow/Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow/Now the workers have struck for fame/Cause Lennon’s on sale again”

Bowie was referencing future close pal John Lennon who would release the Imagine album in 1971.  (Four years later, they would collaborate on Bowie’s first US number one smash, Fame, which gives that portion of the lyric unintentional prescience.)  In turn, Rossdale was giving a tip of the hat to Bowie who actually didn’t release any new CDs in 1994.  Presumably, the Bush frontman is referring to his 1993 solo comeback, Black Tie White Noise.

Interestingly enough, Bowie himself referenced another song in Life On Mars?  While the female protagonist is watching the fictional, unnamed film in the chorus, he sings “look at those cavemen go”.  As noted by Wikipedia, that’s a direct reference to a 1960 song called Alley Oop by a forgotten band called The Hollywood Argyles.  (“Look at that caveman go!“)

3. The Tea Party pays homage to Joy Division in Fire In The Head (1995)

Another band who knows a thing or two about having their egos bruised by the critics is this Windsor, Ontario trio.  Often dismissed as “Jim Morrison fronting Led Zeppelin”, which is only partially correct (the band has freely admitted deriving inspiration from the English metal pioneers), The Tea Party were actually more influenced by Joy Division.

Case in point:  the 1995 single Fire In The Head from their third album, The Edges Of Twilight.  At the end of every verse, deep-voiced frontman Jeff Martin croons with his higher-voiced self:

“This is the way/Step aside”

That just happens to be the chorus for Joy Division’s Atrocity Exhibition, the opening track from their second album, Closer.  (Atrocity Exhibition was also the name of an experimental J.G. Ballard novel.)

Tired of comparisons to The Doors, The Tea Party named their fourth album Transmission (also the name of an early non-album Joy Division single) and added keyboards to their already unique sound.  By the end of the decade, they were one of the most successful bands in Canada, half-accurate critical descriptions be damned.

4. Garbage quietly samples R.E.M. for Stupid Girl (1995)

The fourth single from the first Garbage album was their Top 40 breakthrough.  The drum hook that plays throughout the track is from The Clash’s Train In Vain which, curiously enough, was their first Top 40 achievement.

But there’s another unoriginal drum part not credited in the liner notes that pops up during several instrumental breaks.  If you listen closely, you’ll notice a quick rat-a-tat-tat sample from R.E.M.’s Orange Crush.

So, why wasn’t this noted?  A number of quick web searches didn’t provide any answers.  (My guess:  a secret financial deal was reached without the need for credit which, as Alan Cross has noted, is pretty standard for the industry.)  Maybe when the 20th Anniversary edition of Garbage, the band’s self-titled debut, comes out later this year, we’ll get the full scoop.

5. The Killers tip their hat to David Bowie in Mr. Brightside (2004)

This one I just noticed recently after buying the Hunky Dory CD.

In the last verse of Queen Bitch, his glammy tribute to Lou Reed, Bowie sings about being isolated, cold and envious in his hotel room.  At one point, while continuing to observe his male companion “down on the street”, he reports:

“So I throw both his bags down the hall/And I’m phoning a cab/Cause my stomach feels small”

In Mr. Brightside, frontman Brandon Flowers is tormented in the aftermath of an ended affair.  In the second half of the song’s only verse where he punishes himself by dreaming about his ex getting involved with another man, he sings:

“Now I’m falling asleep/And she’s calling a cab/While he’s having a smoke/And she’s taking a drag/Now they’re going to bed/And my stomach is sick”

Earlier, near the end of the first verse of Queen Bitch, Bowie sings:

“I just can’t see her letting him go.”

In Mr. Brightside, in the midst of his imaginary nightmare, Flowers observes:

“But she’s touching his chest now/he takes off her dress now/letting me go”

These similiarites between the two sets of lyrics (both songs deal with jealous lovers) are not a coincidence.  Flowers has openly declared his admiration for Bowie in the press for years.  In fact, in 2010, he said his music changed his lifeIn a 2013 interview with Entertainment Weekly, he admitted that the bassline for All The Things That I’ve Done was stolen from Slow Burn, an underrated Bowie single from 2002’s Heathen.  In that same interview, he revealed that as The Killers were starting to generate material, he was very much into 70s glam rock, Lou Reed’s Transformers & Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust in particular.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, July 26, 2015
10:18 p.m.

Published in: on July 26, 2015 at 10:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hulk Hogan, Mick Foley & The WWE’s Race Problem

Hulk Hogan hates Black people.  How do we all know this?  His comments were caught on tape.

And not just any tape.  His infamous sex tape.

A few years ago, Gawker broke the story that Hogan was secretly recorded having sex with Heather Clem, the then-wife of his then-friend radio jock Bubba The Love Sponge.  They even posted a brief snippet of the encounter with their report.  An infuriated Hogan filed lawsuits against both the website and Bubba, only the latter of which has been settled.

Ever since, Hogan has been trying to prevent the rest of the video from being shown publicly.  Now we know why.

The National Enquirer and Radar Online recently reported that in 2006, the WWE legend didn’t approve of his daughter Brooke dating a Black man.  Upon getting a head’s up about the coming scandal, the WWE immediately erased its most important star from its website and its imaginary Hall of Fame.  He will no longer appear on the reality competition series, Tough Enough.  You can’t buy any of his official merchandise any more.  He will likely not be doing any more live events or appearing on their weekly TV programs.  Who knows if this will extend to the WWE Network and any upcoming WWE home video releases.

I’ve been a fan of Hogan’s wrestling career for 30 years.  I saw him wrestle live numerous times in my local arena in the 80s.  I watched him bodyslam Andre The Giant in the main event of WrestleMania 3 live on closed circuit TV in that same arena.  I used to have a Hogan T-shirt, his early action figures, a black & white banner, the two Wrestling Albums and dozens of magazines with him on the cover.  I still have the official No Holds Barred magazine, a bookmark, some buttons and old stickers on one of my dressers.  I’ve seen many of his VHS and DVD releases.

But I can’t support him any longer.  I’m not a Hulkamaniac any more.  Hulk Hogan’s views of Black people disgust me.  They are repugnant and completely based on ignorance.  There is absolutely no justification for them whatsoever.  He doesn’t deserve any sympathy for his cruel views.  None.

Which brings me to his bogus apology.  Trying vainly to weasel his way out of this mess, Hogan released this public statement to People Magazine.  Rather than admit that he has a huge problem, he offers the old “this isn’t how I really feel” bullshit.  That did wonders for Michael Richards nine years ago, didn’t it?

Read those words in that tape transcript.  Those are his beliefs.  Make no mistake about it.  Thanks to Hogan Knows Best, the reality show he made with his dysfunctional family, we know firsthand how controlling he is of his daughter Brooke.  It became a running joke throughout the series.  She couldn’t even go on dates without him constantly spying on her.

But this is worse, much worse.  It’s deplorable and inexcusable.

Tell that to Mick Foley, one of a number of fellow wrestlers supporting him.  Instead of getting angry with Hogan on Twitter, he wrote this.

“I’m pulling for you, brother!”  What the fuck is that?

It doesn’t end there.  Foley tweeted this and a link to this.

Give me a fucking break.  Hulk Hogan didn’t make “a very bad mistake” that he deserves “forgiveness” for.  He’s a racist who deserves every criticism he receives.  I want nothing to do with him.

By the way, this isn’t the first time Foley has shown questionable judgment regarding racist public figures.

Around this time last year, Anthony Cumia, the then-half of notorious radio jocks Opie & Anthony, went on a despicable Twitter rant about supposedly being beaten up by a Black woman while taking photos in New York City.  (His story was never verified.)  Long a controversial figure known for making sexist and racist remarks in the guise of “comedy”, the incident ended his gig with Sirius XM and severed his partnership with longtime colleague Opie Hughes.

What was Mick Foley’s initial reaction to the news?  He thanked Anthony for all the times he appeared on the O&A show.

It was only after fans (including myself) complained about his lack of outrage that he even bothered to criticize Anthony’s now deleted rant on his official Facebook page in the first place.  Unfortunately, he also declared him a “comedic genious [sic]” in the same posting.

A year later, Foley hasn’t learned his lesson, so I’m done with him, too.

As for the WWE, no one should be throwing out hosannas for them, either.  Under longtime owner Vince McMahon Jr., the company has a terrible history with raceRolling Stone recently highlighted just 5 examples in a recent posting that you can still see on home video and on the WWE Network, not to mention YouTube.  The Wrestling Observer website has an ongoing retro recap series on the old Tuesday Night Titans talk show where they’ve often made note of how poorly Black wrestlers were treated by their White counterparts in the 80s.

And that’s just scratching the surface.  We could also talk about demeaning gimmicks (think The Boogeyman, The Godfather, Kamala The Ugandan Headhunter, Virgil, Papa Shango or Saba Simba (AKA Tony Atlas)), awful promos (Paul Orndorff calling Atlas a “souped up spider monkey” and “a big gorilla” on TNT), off-camera incidents (a drunken Michael Hayes saying he’s a better “nigger” than Henry after WrestleMania 24) and lack of Black world champions (The Rock, now just a part-timer, was the last one two & a half years ago and he only defended the WWE title twice on pay-per-view).  Furthermore, don’t get me started on the use of the Confederate Flag by the likes of “babyfaces” Dick Slater (during his thankfully short-lived Rebel gimmick) and The Fabulous Freebirds (which included Hayes as a member).

Even today, the WWE continues to think little of its Black talent.  Before they became heels, The New Day (Kofi Kingston, Big E & Xavier Woods) were packaged as inspirational preachers which the audience instantly rejected.  R-Truth, so effective as a jealous, paranoid, insecure villain in 2011, is back to doing his terrible babyface rapper gimmick.

Thankfully, there have been exceptions past and present.  Consider former World Heavyweight Champion Mark Henry who, despite suffering indignity after indignity on and off-screen, was never better than as an angry, ambitious bully between 2011 and 2013.  Or former InterContinental Champion Shelton Benjamin, the incredibly agile daredevil who stole the show in the first four Money In The Bank ladder matches at WrestleMania 21, 22, 23 & 24 during his run in the company.  And we can’t forget old school grapplers like Bobo Brazil and Sweet Daddy Siki.

Yes, The Prime Time Players (Titus O’Neil and pioneering gay performer Darren Young) are the current tag team champions but are their characters memorable and special?  Catchphrases and silly dancing aside, not really, which is a shame because they’re good workers and work well as a team.  (They’re pals in real-life which helps the chemistry.)

So, let’s be clear.  The WWE is merely covering its ass here by firing Hogan.  (His lawyer says he quit but who’s buying that one?)  Its recent public statement to the contrary, it does not have a great track record on race.  (Women aren’t treated much better but that’s a whole different rant.)  Yes, it has a lot more talented Black performers on its main roster today.  But are any of them getting pushed like John Cena and Randy Orton?

Back to Hogan.  Does anyone truly believe this distancing act the WWE is doing right now will be permanent?  Please.  Despite being retired and into his early 60s, Hogan is still a bonafide moneymaker for professional wrestling generally and Vince McMahon Jr. specifically.  When the Gawker lawsuit is finally resolved either by settlement or dismissal (most likely the latter; he doesn’t have much of a case), and after Hogan’s despicable comments inevitably fade completely from the media’s headlines and the public consciousness, the WWE will come calling again and all will be forgiven.

Don’t believe me?  Consider the example of Dog The Bounty Hunter (AKA Duane Chapman).  During the 4th season of his own hit reality show on A&E, he left a voicemail message for his son which revealed he didn’t approve of interracial romances, either.  A&E temporarily pulled his show off the air.  Then, much to my surprise, it came back for four more seasons before it was cancelled for good in 2012, five years after that infamous voicemail was reported by, you guessed it, the National Enquirer.

But it wasn’t the end of Dog’s TV career.  Since 2013, he’s been starring with his wife in a new CMT show called Dog & Beth: On The Hunt.  (You can see it in Canada on OLN.)  It’s pretty much the same as the A&E program.  Back in 2009, Dog even wrote a book, his second, called Where Mercy Is Shown, Mercy Is Given which apparently addresses his racist comments.

If a mullet-haired bigoted bounty hunter can continue to thrive with his professional life, Hulk Hogan has nothing to worry about.  (Neither does Michael Hayes who was only suspended for insulting Mark Henry.) Expect the WWE to re-embrace him sooner than later.  And expect them to continue to deny it has a race problem.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, July 25, 2015
8:39 p.m.

Published in: on July 25, 2015 at 8:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

12 David Bowie Rarities That Have Never Been Released On CD

Last month, David Bowie’s official website announced the upcoming release of Five Years, the first in a series of career-spanning, retrospective box sets.  The most notable inclusion:  the original version of Holy Holy, a rare 1970 A-Side that has never been issued on CD before.  That’s right.  It has taken 45 years for this to finally happen.

This got me thinking recently of other Bowie rarities that for whatever reason have also been denied a proper CD release.  True, some of the following songs can be legally downloaded online but for old school fans, it’s always preferable to own the best quality physical copies of their favourite music.

At any event, here are the only remaining officially released recordings in the Bowie catalogue that can’t be purchased on CD:

1 & 2. Space Oddity (1969 US Single Edit & 1973 Longer US Single Edit)

The full version of Bowie’s first major hit runs five minutes and fifteen seconds.  But when it was first released in the United States, it was severely cut down to just a little under three and a half minutes.  (No wonder it flopped.)  A second US single release restored most of the original mix minus twelve seconds.

In 2009, in honour of the song’s 40th Anniversary, Bowie released a special EP that featured all the different single versions of the song plus individual elements of the original on separate tracks so fans could make their own mixes.  Unfortunately, this was an online-only release.

The Five Years box set will include the rare four and a half minute UK single edit but not any of the US edits.

3. The Man In The Middle (1971 Arnold Corns B-Side)

While making the Ziggy Stardust album, Bowie slyly released three songs under the name Arnold Corns (a reference to his favourite Pink Floyd song, Arnold Layne).  Two of the tracks, Moonage Daydream and Hang On To Yourself, would be reworked and re-recorded for Ziggy.  (The originals can be heard on the 1990 Rykodisc version of The Man Who Sold The World and the 2002 30th Anniversary edition of Ziggy.)  The third, The Man In The Middle, would only be issued as the B-Side to Yourself.  It has not been released in any other form.

4. John, I’m Only Dancing (Again) (1979 7″ Single Edit A-Side)

Two years after recording three versions of John, I’m Only Dancing (two of which would be issued as stand-alone singles in 1972, the third as a bonus cut on the 1990 Rykodisc and 2002 30th Anniversary editions of Ziggy Stardust), Bowie decided to do a funked-up disco remake entitled John, I’m Only Dancing (Again).  Rejected for Young Americans, it sat in the vaults for five years before finally getting a proper single release in 1979.

The full seven-minute 12″ version would eventually appear on CD on The Best Of David Bowie 1974-1979 and the 2007 reissue of Young Americans.  But the edited three and a half minute 7″ version remains only available on vinyl.

5, 6 & 7. Remembering Marie A, Ballad Of The Adventurers & The Dirty Song (from 1982 Baal EP)

In 1982, Bowie starred in the BBC TV adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s Baal, a play originally written during the First World War.  He sang five songs for the production which were later collected for the Baal EP, his final release for RCA.  In 2003, The Drowned Girl & Baal’s Hymn made their CD debuts on the expanded version of the Sound + Vision box set.  Drowned Girl would also pop up on disc three of The Platinum Collection in 2005 which was given a separate release as The Best Of David Bowie 1980-1987 in 2007.

But the other three tracks from the EP – Remembering Marie A, Ballad Of The Adventurers & The Dirty Song – have never been put on CD.  However, the full EP has been available as a digital download since 2007.

8, 9 & 10. Life On Mars?, Wake Up & Five Years (from the 2005 Live At Fashion Rocks EP with The Arcade Fire)

On September 8, 2005, David Bowie & The Arcade Fire performed live at the Fashion Rocks event in New York City.  The three songs they performed that evening (Bowie’s Life On Mars? from Hunky Dory and Five Years from Ziggy plus Arcade Fire’s Wake Up from Funeral) were later issued that same year on the Live At Fashion Rocks EP (or Live EP as it says on the digital cover) as an iTunes exclusive.  Unfortunately, they have all since been removed from the site.

11. Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime) (2014 Single Edit)

The obligatory new song recorded for last year’s Nothing Has Changed compilation features the full seven-minute version.  The four-minute single edit can only be downloaded or purchased on vinyl.

12. ‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore (2014 B-Side)

The B-Side to Sue is only available with both versions of the A-Side as a three-song digital download and on 10″ vinyl.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, July 5, 2015
6:20 p.m.

Published in: on July 5, 2015 at 6:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Horrible Bosses

There’s a second season episode of Seinfeld where George Costanza reaches his breaking point.  After his boss refuses to let the real estate agent use his private bathroom George throws a temper tantrum and quits.

Bad idea.

He realizes belatedly that he doesn’t have a Plan B.  He can’t immediately find a replacement gig.  So he humbly returns to work a few days later acting as though his big freakout never happened.

Another bad idea.

Then, with the assistance of pal Elaine Benes, George slips a Mickey in his boss’s drink at a company function.

Strike three.

I thought about that particular story while watching Horrible Bosses, an extraordinarily pitiful black comedy released in the summer of 2011.  In the film, three old high school friends (Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudekis) frequently bemoan their miserable experiences at work.  I had my own miserable experience watching this tasteless trash.

Investment broker Bateman has been willingly taking shit for eight years from Kevin Spacey naively thinking it will somehow lead to a major promotion.  (Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t.)  Basically recycling the psychotic character he played in Swimming With Sharks, Spacey is a sadistic stickler.  He’s only happy when he’s cruel.  (He also thinks his wife is having multiple affairs.  He’s not completely off-base on this point, as it turns out.)  Sometimes I wondered if he realized he was acting in a comedy since Spacey’s performance fails to generate a single laugh (not counting one amusing facial expression in the post-credit outtakes).

Despite being the first one in the office every morning and the last one to leave at the end of the day, Bateman can’t do anything to please him.  Showing up two minutes late is cause for a private scolding.  Tricking him into downing a whole glass of old scotch in his office well before happy hour gives him an excuse to call him a drunk in front of his co-workers.  And he can’t have fun on the weekend because Spacey drowns him in extra work.

Meanwhile, the annoying Charlie Day is an engaged dental assistant who has to constantly fight off the sexual advances of an overly lascivious Jennifer Aniston.  (Does she know Whatley from Seinfeld?  They would definitely hit it off.)  Complicating his dilemma is that he’s a registered sex offender who really needs this job.  (He got caught peeing outside in a children’s playground after drinking too much in a nearby bar when no one was around.)   And Aniston is threatening to ruin his relationship if he keeps refusing her pornographic come-ons.  (She has compromising photos on her tablet that look far from consensual.)

At first, Jason Sudekis has a mostly ideal situation working at a responsible chemical company.  (Only in the movies, right?)  He has a competent, supportive boss in Donald Sutherland.  But after he suddenly dies of a heart attack (you can see it coming a mile away), Sutherland’s idiotic, masseuse-lovin’, coke-addicted son (a terribly miscast Colin Farrell with a paunch and bad combover) takes over and his nightmare begins.  Those poor Bolivians.

During one of their many communal commiserations, Day wonders why Sudekis and Bateman don’t just quit.  Then, an old high school pal who hasn’t been the same since he lost his job with Lehman Brothers two years ago shows up wishing he could kill his former bosses for ruining his life.  (He’s now reduced to prostituting himself to anyone who will pay for “handies”.  To be fair, his rates are reasonable.)  After he gets kicked out of the bar, the three amigos appear to resign themselves to remaining unhappily employed.

But after Sudekis “hypothetically” suggests they off their superiors, shortly thereafter, a real agreement is reached.  Day locates what he thinks is an online hitman they plan to meet in a hotel room.  Unfortunately, “wet works” isn’t code for killing people.  It’s a gay kink involving urine.  That’s typical of the level of comedy we’re dealing with here.

Desperate for someone to help them out they’re approached by misleading ex-con Jamie Foxx outside a bar in a tough neighbourhood.  But he wants 5 G’s before making a commitment.  However, after he gets the money, he suddenly decides to just be a “murder consultant”.  He suggests they make the killings look like accidents.  (Good one, genius.)  Plus, in order to avoid suspicion, rather than having Bateman kill Spacey, Day kill Aniston and Sudekis kill Farrell, they should switch things up.  As a result, the lads decide that Bateman will take out Farrell, Day will eliminate Spacey and Sudekis will assassinate Aniston instead.

Foxx also advises pre-murder stakeouts so they can study their bosses’ daily routines in order to discover previously undetected vulnerabilities.  But they take it further by breaking and entering.  They sneak into Farrell’s bachelor pad through an open garage door one night where they learn that he collects a lot of useless crap and foolishly leaves his stash of cocaine lying around.  Before they leave, Sudekis steals Farrell’s cell phone and leaves his, um, scent on some of his personal hygiene products.

Because Day is a total screw-up (he’s the one who unwittingly contacts the professional urinator online and foolishly drops Farrell’s box of coke on his carpet), he’s designated the outside lookout while the two Jasons sneak into Spacey’s lavish home.  A weird shrine to his cat (who keeps popping up unexpectedly freaking out the duo), this new arrangement reaps dividends when Spacey unexpectedly returns from his nightly jog.

Pissed off by Day’s presence and for his spontaneous act of littering, Spacey’s angry confrontation goes terribly awry when he suddenly has an allergic reaction to the peanuts in Day’s snack.  Fortunately, he has an adrenaline needle on him.  To the absolute horror of the two Jasons who watch helplessly from an upstairs window, he repeatedly stabs Spacey with the needle until he finally calms down.  (Because his dopey comrades failed to show him what Spacey looks like, he has no idea who he’s helping.)  In the middle of this madness, Spacey’s wife (Modern Family’s Julie Bowen) arrives.  Considering his deep mistrust of her fidelity, not to mention his rigid personality, her relief that he isn’t dead isn’t terribly believable.

In their eagerness to escape, the two Jasons accidentally leave behind Farrell’s cell phone which sets in motion a chain of events that pretty much derails their original plans.

From the very beginning, the tone of Horrible Bosses is all wrong.  As a result, there’s almost nothing funny here.  The film’s idea of a black comedy is to mainly rely on dumb gross-out humour, including an astounding number of rape jokes, rather than make any kind of clever comic statement.  (Fearing possible jail sentences for their criminal ineptness, the two Jasons and Day openly debate who’s more “rapeable”.  Really.)

The first laugh, courtesy of Jason Bateman, doesn’t happen until about 80 minutes into the picture and even then, it’s just a quick, sarcastic one-liner.  (Day’s phone sex technique really is abysmal.)  The few remaining funny moments happen during the closing credits blooper reel.  (Jamie Foxx is funnier when he screws up.)  A stunning disappointment considering the high profile names here.

I was particularly offended by the Aniston storyline.  Imagine if she was the harassed assistant and Day was the predatory dentist.  Would anyone be laughing then?  Besides, Seinfeld did a somewhat similar storyline with Whatley that was far funnier and less cringy.  (Come to think of it, there are a couple of other things that feel cribbed from that show:  Foxx’s criminal past, the fat woman mistaken for being pregnant.)  Like Spacey and Farrell, I didn’t laugh at anything she says or does.

The lack of intelligence is glaringly apparent at almost every possible turn.  At one point, our dimwitted heroes don’t even realize they’ve left behind Farrell’s cell phone.  (Once it disappears, it’s never mentioned again.)  It never occurs to them that that might be the reason the overly suspicious Spacey pays him an unexpected visit.  (Spacey literally has it in his hand and plays the Carl Douglas ringtone to Farrell that a shocked Bateman doesn’t pick up on even though he has an excellent view from his car.)  And why would they decide to spy on their bosses’ homes from the comfort of their own vehicles?  License plates can be traced, dummies.

I get it.  They’re supposed to be stupid.  But they’re not funny stupid.  Nor are they worth rooting for.  The shallow, womanizing, anti-fat, homophobic Sudekis is charmless and ignorant.  Bateman’s passive/aggressive act isn’t amusing.  And the feminized Day (whose childhood dream was to be married and who openly weeps while watching The Notebook) is just plain irritating.  Sometimes I wondered if he was trying to channel The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi when he raises his voice which he does way too often.

How bad is this movie?  Even a cameo from Bob Newhart can’t generate a laugh.  And he’s usually comedy gold.  (His frequent guest appearances on The Big Bang Theory prove he hasn’t lost his timing at this late stage of his long career.)

Roger Ebert was fond of saying, “It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it’s about it.”  Could Horrible Bosses have worked with a sharper, darker, more incisive screenplay?  Unless some brave soul decides to remake it down the road, we’ll never know.  On second thought, never mind.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, July 4, 2015
3:57 p.m.

Published in: on July 4, 2015 at 3:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Degrassi Junior High (Song Parody)

“Wake up in the morning
Feeling shy and lonely
Gee, I gotta go to school
I don’t think I can make it
Don’t think I can take it
I’m wondering what I’m gonna do
But when I look around and see
That someone is smiling right at me
That someone’s talking to me
I’ve got a new friend
Everybody can succeed
All you need is to believe
Be honest with yourself
Forget your fears and doubts
Come on, give us a try
At Degrassi Junior High”

Nostalgia can hit you with the force of a tornado when you least expect it.  Last week, for the first time in so many years, I started watching Degrassi Junior High again.  (MTV Canada airs it weekdays at 1:30 p.m.)  I accidentally caught the middle of an episode where the girls’ swim team challenge the boys’ soccer team to a swim-off.  (The girls win.)  Almost instantly, a torrent of teenage memories came flooding back into my brain.

While getting reacquainted with the likes of Lucy, Caitlyn, Joey, Snake, Wheels, Spike and Stephanie Kaye, after not thinking about them in decades, a very silly thought popped into my head:  what would it sound like if Axl Rose sang the Degrassi Junior High theme song?

Well, I would hope it would go a little something like this.  You’re welcome:

(To the tune of Live And Let Die)

When you wake up feeling shy & lonely, too
Do I have to go to school?
(You know you do, you know you do, you know you do)
I can’t make it, I can’t take it, what will I do?
Come on, give us a try
At Degrassi Junior High
Degrassi Junior High

All you need to succeed now
Is to believe in you
Forget your fears & doubts
Just be honest with your fuckin’ self!

Who’s that smiling right at me?
(It’s a new friend, it’s a new friend, it’s a new friend)
I look around, they’re talking to me, what will I do?
Come on, give us a try
At Degrassi Junior High
Degrassi Junior High

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, June 25, 2015
1:42 a.m.

Published in: on June 25, 2015 at 1:42 am  Comments (2)  

Nobody’s Type

Walking around completely undetected
Collective indifference strongly suspected
Always invisible amongst the crowd
Their silent rejection so incredibly loud
No reason to listen, no desire to talk
A sobering reason for me to take stock
Maybe it’s true that I’m not worth the hype
I guess I should accept I’m nobody’s type

How can I be when I’m thin as a rail
Underdeveloped with skin so pale
Stuck in a pattern that’s hard to break
Sometimes “the truth” is too tough to take
Unwilling to challenge this faulty thinking
Weaker minds would contemplate drinking
Perhaps it’s foolish to publicly gripe
I guess I should accept I’m nobody’s type

It hasn’t always been the best of times
Too many examples to list in rhymes
Bullies & intolerances top a long list
Problems that can’t be solved with a flick of the wrist
You keep hammering yourself on a daily basis
Wondering if you’ll ever locate that oasis
I’ll never be as cool as Michael Stipe
I guess I should accept I’m nobody’s type

I’m just not seen in a sexual way
Guys like me aren’t invited to play
We lack definition and the talent to excite
That’s why we call it an early night
We’re not on the cover of a best-selling book
We just aren’t given a second look
It’s a wonder I don’t ever reach for a pipe
I guess I should accept I’m nobody’s type

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
2:57 a.m.

Published in: on June 23, 2015 at 2:57 am  Leave a Comment  

Original Holy Holy Single Finally Makes CD Debut In New David Bowie Box Set

On September 25th, David Bowie will release a massive new box set covering the first successful phase of his long, highly regarded career.  According to his official website, Five Years 1969-1973 will feature six studio albums, two live records, and a two-disc collection of single mixes, B-sides and rarities.  It will be available in a 12-CD package as well as a separate 13-LP collection.

Space Oddity (AKA David Bowie (1969) and Man Of Words, Man Of Music), The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane and the covers album Pin-Ups have all been remastered once again specifically for this set.  The 2003 stereo remix of The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars, only previously available on DVD, will also be included.

On top of that, Five Years will also feature the double-disc Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture soundtrack and Live Santa Monica ’72, a Ziggy-era bootleg that was first released officially in 2008.

Finally, there’s Re:Call 1.  Sadly not available as a separate stand alone release, this exclusive two-disc compilation will feature 24 additional songs, many of which appeared as bonus tracks on previous studio album reissues as well as being a part of earlier box sets & greatest hits compilations.  Far from comprehensive (not all the extra songs from the Rykodisc & 30th Anniversary versions are restored here, unfortunately), it does showcase most of the non-album A-Sides & B-Sides from the era.  (The UK single edit of Space Oddity is on the track list, but neither of the two US single edits made the cut.)

Amongst a lot of familiar hits & flipsides are several genuine rarities, the biggest of which is Holy Holy.  Originally a three-minute single issued in 1970, only the two-and-a-half minute 1971 re-recording (a Ziggy Stardust outtake eventually issued as a B-Side to Diamond Dogs in 1974) has ever made it on a Bowie CD, including this box set.  Now, for the first time ever, the original three-minute version can be heard digitally, as well.  It was only previously available officially on 45.

Also making its debut on CD is a rare, unreleased single mix of All The Madmen from The Man Who Sold The World and the German single edit of Drive In Saturday from Aladdin Sane.

Fans of John, I’m Only Dancing will be happy to know that the original mix and the sax version are included on disc two of Re:Call 1, marking the first time that both have appeared on the same release.  Other highlights of the collection include the Arnold Corns versions of Moonage Daydream and Hang On To Yourself (but not the rare vinyl-only B-Side The Man In The Middle), the Italian version of Space Oddity (Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola), the single edit of Time from Aladdin Sane and Velvet Goldmine.

Five Years will also include a new book filled with rare photos, new liner notes written by Bowie producers Ken Scott and Tony Visconti, plus a foreword from The Kinks’ Ray Davies.

According to the official press release on davidbowie.com, this is only the first “in a series” of box sets to cover the six-decade career of The Thin White Duke himself.

Furthermore, regarding Five Years, the website promises “updates, pre-order links and more shortly.”  Hopefully, one of those updates will note whether this box set is coming to Canada.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, June 22, 2015
11:19 p.m.

Published in: on June 22, 2015 at 11:19 pm  Comments (1)  

America’s Self-Interest Always Comes First

Embracing the hatred to make a quick buck
Ignoring the warnings so now they are stuck
Fooling themselves into thinking they’re right
Hounding their critics just out of spite
Compounding their problems by doubling down
Dropping their bombs in town after town
Incredibly surprised when it all goes wrong
Continually angering the growing throng
Their deals with these devils are really the worst
But America’s self-interest always comes first

Abuses and violations are hardly worth praise
But their super loyal puppets must get their raise
As the temperature rises to an uncomfortable boil
All that really matters is the price of oil
Suffering and death are secondary concerns
They don’t give a fuck if the whole world burns
It’s all about profits “earned” through war
They’re like hopeless addicts so eager to score
As their victims despair, slowly dying of thirst
America’s self-interest always comes first

Defending the wicked for the sake of control
Forsaking the fallen while maintaining their goal
Of total domination and awareness of thought
Liars and crooks are so easily bought
Torturers are protected with excessive redactions
Ignorant Republicans are welcome distractions
Truth tellers are harassed and imprisoned for years
Especially journalists who discredit their fears
The time has come for their bubble to burst
America’s self-interest should never come first

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, June 21, 2015
7:01 p.m.

Published in: on June 21, 2015 at 7:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Curtains (1983)

It is the role they all want.  It is the role they all covet.  It is the role they all desire so badly they would do anything to secure it.  The question is how far will any of them actually go to make it happen?

The role is Audra, a mentally unstable woman so completely pissed off at her constantly cheating lover she wants to kill him.  In the opening scene of Curtains, British actress Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Egger) auditions by delivering Audra’s penultimate speech in front of the film’s watchful, Machiavellian director, Jonathan Stryker (John Vernon), while standing on stage in an empty theatre.

After she pulls the trigger of her prop gun, from the balcony he is coldly dismissive:  “I don’t believe it.”  (I didn’t, either.  Some of her dialogue feels overwritten and she lacks true intensity.)  “Audra would never pull the trigger.”  Sherwood is amused but not hurt.  She just thinks he doesn’t understand women or love or even herself.  (They have a complicated history, you see.)  Despite her being willing to improve her own performance with the added benefit of lighting and camera tricks he suddenly shuts off the spotlight from the balcony, gets very quiet and disappears.  (Well, alright, then.)

A fitting moment since that’s when this movie goes completely off the rails.  Desperate to land Audra, Sherwood cooks up a ridiculous scheme with Stryker to get herself institutionalized so she can study the cartoonish, one-note patients who live there.  (Is this really necessary?)  After signing the official papers to make this doomed idea a reality, she lamely tries to stab Stryker.  While fighting her off, she is ultimately restrained by several hospital workers and put in a strait jacket.  (Why is she even doing this when she’s already in?)

Stryker absurdly requests a private moment with his potential leading lady after everything settles down.  Incredibly, he’s granted one.  (Guys, she could still kick and bite him if she really wanted to, you know.)  He gives the giddy Sherwood (who looks like David Bowie and sounds like Joan Collins) an undeserved rave review.  She’s clearly wrong for Audra.

Sherwood’s experience in the mental hospital, unsurprisingly, turns out to be a nightmare.  She can’t sleep thanks to the screaming weeper in the bed next to hers.  She can’t do a jigsaw puzzle in peace.  She can’t escape the clutches of a humming, tickling giggler while another hummer strokes her hair.  And she can’t even watch herself in a old movie on TV without being laughed out of the room.

Despite kissing up to her during repeated personal visits (Sherwood sees right through his blatant flattery on one particular occasion), Stryker completely screws her over by ultimately abandoning her.  (That’s the thanks she gets for buying him the rights to film Audra, originally a novel, in the first place.)  Thanks to a mysterious friend whose face we never see she learns in Variety that he’s moving on without her.

With understandable vengeance on her mind, her mysterious friend helps her escape the mental hospital (are the real ones as lax as the fictional ones in horror movies?) and makes her way to his secluded mansion where he’ll be hosting a most unusual weekend casting session.  An awful stand-up comic, an ok figure skater, an ok interpretive dancer, a musician and an insecure, looks-obsessed Brit all hope to replace Sherwood as Audra in a bizarre, highly manipulative two-day endurance test that is more fishy than sincere.

A sixth contender never even makes the trip.  Before she’s stabbed to death in her own apartment there’s a horrifying scene where she’s being stalked by some creep wearing pantyhose over his head.  He eventually breaks in and rapes her.  Or so we think until we’re shocked to learn this is just a bored couple role playing. Oh, you wacky kids!

How the deadpan, deep-voiced John Vernon maintains a mostly straight face in all of this ridiculousness is a testament to how good he is as the unethical Stryker.  Clearly and calmly in control at all times he seems far more interested in screwing with his actresses, both mentally and literally, than making an important casting choice for his movie.  (When the annoying stand-up comic jokes about giving him a blowjob to get hired, he smoothly responds, “That shouldn’t be necessary, but I’ll keep it in mind.”)  When he’s not putting them through completely pointless exercises (Wear this hideous hag mask and seduce me only with your eyes and mouth!  Touch her breast like a man would!), he’s taking complete advantage of their collective vulnerability.  The powerful creep ends up bedding two of the more desperate contenders, which doesn’t go unnoticed by Sherwood.  Call me crazy but sometimes you wonder if making a movie is his real priority here.

Meanwhile, someone in that hideous old lady mask is eliminating the competition one by one.  Circumstantial evidence clearly points to Sherwood who has two very strong motives.  But considering how at times the film challenges the audience’s expectations (the surprising rape fantasy sequence, for instance), Sherwood’s possible culpability seems a bit too obvious to be accurate.

Curtains is one of the strangest, most confusing slasher films I’ve ever seen.  (Even a rare, second screening didn’t answer all my questions.)  Shot and reshot over two years with two different crews and directors plus one notable casting change, there were so many alterations made that when it was finally completed the finished result bore very little resemblance to its original story.

Essentially, it’s two seemingly incompatible ideas (a deliberately slow paced, pretentious, twisty psychodrama and a standard slasher thriller) merged into one rather screwy whole.  It isn’t particularly scary (the hag mask gimmick, complete with the killer’s heavy breathing, is a blatant, uninspired rip-off of Halloween’s Michael Myers) and there are many unexplained moments.

Consider Michael Wincott.  During the dinner time sequence where Stryker introduces himself to the five contenders, in walks Wincott looking a lot like the love child of Sid Vicious and Keith Richards.  After ogling one of the women, he ends up fooling around with her later that winter’s night in the outdoor Jacuzzi.  (He has exactly one line of dialogue:  “Hey!”)  Then, while gathering firewood, we see him watch the figure skater walk to the frozen pond for a fateful training session (even though she left a note for Stryker saying she was leaving the mansion for good) and later, he drives away on a snowmobile for some reason.

We have no idea who he is and why the hell he’s at Stryker’s mansion.  Is he a friend?  His son?  Hired help?  Personal assistant?  Secret gay lover?  It’s never explained.

Meanwhile, there are other unresolved matters.  Did Stryker have Sherwood institutionalized because he never really wanted her for the part in the first place and this was the best way to squeeze her out?  Since the ruse, if it was one, didn’t exactly work why does he allow her to participate in the mansion casting sessions anyway?

How the hell did the killer a) retrieve that decapitated head from the toilet without leaving a mess (and where did it go?) b) squeeze through that tiny bathroom window without getting caught while the insecure Brit is doing her nails?  c) find another way into the prop room vent to murder one of her cowering competitors? d) manage to drag the body of one of the victims to hang in the prop room undiscovered? And e) not immediately execute the most obvious threat to her professional future?

In the years following the film’s forgotten, short-lived theatrical release (despite being filmed in Toronto with a mostly Canadian cast it was curiously released here a year after its American debut) it has grown in popularity thanks to home video & Television re-airings, much to the surprise and amusement of some of its surviving cast & crew who appear in the entertaining DVD documentary.  (Most were embarrassed and disappointed by it.  I don’t blame them.)

Despite its resurgence as a cult film, Curtains never really had a chance to be a good movie or a logical one, for that matter, thanks to the constant tinkering of the story and the endless reshoots.  I will say this for it, though.  It’s a bit more ambitious than your typical 80s slasher movie, thanks to the considerable portion uncredited Belgian director Richard Ciupka was responsible for (the middle 40-50 minutes (it runs 89), he says on the DVD).  Strangely, instead of using “Alan Smithee”, the film credits “Jonathan Stryker”, John Vernon’s character, as the official director.

In between the usual horror clichés, it tries to be surprising during other scenes, setting up our expectations for predictable resolutions only to throw in unexpected curveballs at the end of them.  The problem is most of these swerves don’t work or leave you shaking your head like that bizarre rape fantasy sequence that really perturbed me during my initial screening or Sherwood’s needless, fake murder attempt on Stryker at the nuthouse.

Speaking of Stryker, it’s a testament to John Vernon’s much missed professionalism (he died in 2005) that his performance as the manipulative, shady director is the best one, even though he’s not always written smartly.  Surely realizing the silliness of his character’s often questionable antics he nonetheless plays him absolutely straight.  Even though I laughed when he convinces the eavesdropping, naive figure skater that the very real fight he just had with Sherwood in her old bedroom was merely a private audition, he never betrays his remarkably good deadpan.  As the wise Costanza once observed, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

As an aside, it’s refreshing to see so little gore and hear no misogynistic dialogue here, two unwelcome, longterm elements of the genre I’d love to see retired for good.  That said, the women hungering for the role of Audra aren’t exactly feminist or sympathetic or bright.  Before they even meet Stryker, they ponder numerous ways in which they’d sell out for him.  It sounds like they’re half-joking but as the movie progresses, it’s clear some of them are not.

In the end, Curtains is a curious mess, a meandering mishmash of conflicting approaches that only hint at more compelling possibilities.  Instead of burning all those head shots until they pop, the filmmakers should’ve torched this movie instead and start all over again.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, June 20, 2015
3:49 a.m.

Published in: on June 20, 2015 at 3:50 am  Leave a Comment  

From The Published Archives: Breaching Vista’s Vera City

For three years (2009-2012), I submitted reviews to MonkeyBiz.ca, a website that provided a free platform for local, independent writers.  (Today, it’s just a one-person blog.)  In the end, the site published all of my proposed pieces:  twelve CD reviews & three movie reviews.  Fourteen have since been reposted in this space.  Here’s the story behind number fifteen.

Shortly after the long delayed publication of my positive assessment of Keane’s Night Train EP in July 2011, the editor emailed me asking if I would be interested in doing another CD review right away.  Of course I was.  So I went down to their office downtown and picked up the disc.

Like most of the acts I assessed during that period, I had never heard of Breaching Vista.  Based out of Kitchener, Ontario, they were completely off my radar.  Having only previously released an EP (which I’ve never heard), Vera City was their first proper album.  As the editor pointed out, the band actually autographed the center spread of its liner notes which kinda freaked me out a little bit.  I was worried the gesture would unduly influence my critique.

As it turned out, my concern was misplaced.  Although I did praise the album (because I legitimately liked it), there were a few songs I didn’t care for.  After the review was posted, Breaching Vista frontman John Maksym personally wrote two emails to the editor of MonkeyBiz which were then forwarded to me.

The first one simply expressed appreciation for my review (“It’s a nice honest perspective of the record.  I can tell he actually took the time to listen to each song carefully, and that’s exactly what we’re looking for in a review.”).  The second went on to explain in considerable detail the inspiration for two of the three Vera City songs I panned.

Nervous, which I found uneven and confusing, is about Maksym’s miserable experience in one of his previous bands which he doesn’t name.  (“In order to keep another member content, I excused myself from the front-man/lead vocalist duties, and allowed for them to take over.  It was never a move I was comfortable with, but went about it for the sake of keeping the original line up together.”)  Like Edwyn in I Mother Earth, Maksym claimed that he “was completely left out of the writing process” when this unnamed band decided to do some recording.  When informed that he “wasn’t needed in the studio”, he “voluntarily walked out”.  Nervous was originally written in 2006, months after his departure, during his brief solo period before the formation of Breaching Vista.  It was rearranged a number of times before being recorded for Vera City.

Forgive You was “loosely based on an article” Maksym read by Susan Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine shooters.  It appeared in Oprah Magazine back in 2009, a decade after the infamous high school massacre.  Deeply affected by the tragedy as a Grade 10 student, years later Maksym wrote the song from her point of view as an answer to this question: “In the most tragic and devastating events, could unconditional love warrant forgiveness and trump the darkest of evils?”

Makysm never references Columbine or the Klebolds directly in the lyrics (“I had hoped the song had enough substance to leave it open for interpretation, without directly linking it to any one circumstance in particular…”) but even if he had, my dim view of Forgive You wouldn’t have changed.  (I didn’t care for the arrangement.)  That said, the fact that he took the time to explain the reasoning behind every verse & chorus of it was much appreciated and revealing.  In all my years of writing reviews in various spaces, that has never happened before or since.

My mostly positive review of Breaching Vista’s Vera City was posted by MonkeyBiz on August 29, 2011.  I was quite happy with the final edit (very few changes were required before posting) so I’ve left the original review intact.  Because MonkeyBiz renovated its website a while back, all fifteen of my pieces are no longer there.  You can only find cached versions now.

As for Breaching Vista, according to this January 2015 interview with the Canadian Beats blog, they’re still working on a follow-up to Vera City.  Good luck to them.

Breaching Vista’s Vera City: An Album Review

Posted on August 29 2011 under Arts & Entertainment
By Dennis Earl

Is emo still a viable genre?  Breaching Vista sure hopes so.  According to their Facebook page, this ambitious Kitchener quartet has been kicking around the independent scene for almost half a decade waiting for a breakthrough.

Three years after the release of their first EP, Breaking the View, comes Vera City, their entertaining debut album.  And yes, that’s a play on veracity which would’ve been a better title.

Imagine Johnny Rzeznick of the Goo Goo Dolls fronting Jimmy Eat World and you’ll have a basic sense of how they sound.  Their unoriginal yet slick musical presentation convinces you they may not be independent for very long.

The album begins well with a tight, mostly instrumental number called We Are the Way.  Is the background vocalizing of the title an unsubtle, prematurely cocky declaration to the world? Definitely.

There have been numerous rock songs about the pleasure of a deep slumber but Breaching Vista manage to add another good one to this long list.

Sleep extolls the virtues of resting over the persistent danger of drug-taking: “Give me something that my body needs/Not those chemicals that make you crazy.”

Singer/lyricist John Maksym is unabashedly open about why all of this matters so much to him:  “Are you aware, of the life that I’m trying to lead?/The success that I need to achieve/Aspirations that I have conceived/Just let me get some sleep.”

A refreshing attitude, so different from most alt-rockers who pretend not to want to be famous and successful.

Run With the Punches continues the ambition theme by portraying the band as masochistic underdogs determined to make it despite constant struggles.  Like all the full-on rockers here, it has good energy and thoughtful lyrics.

Romantic torment is fairly common subject matter for an emo band and Breaching Vista offer several such songs.  Goodbye, So Long focuses on two quarrelling lovers who have very different views of their relationship after an exposed dalliance.  It’s skillfully familiar.

Far less successful, though, are Nervous and Forgive You.  The former suffers from confused lyrics and uneven music.  The choruses are catchier than the verses.

Despite the use of strings, African chanting and Maksym’s usual anguish, the latter lacks an emotional pull.  It also doesn’t help that it’s not entirely clear why this particular relationship died.

Was it because of an external affair?  A cruel prank?  The lack of revelation robs the song of a heartbreaking payoff it needs to work.

The best of all these numbers is Wrath of Nyre.  Featuring a killer hook from lead guitarist Al Malnar, paired at the start with an effective acoustic counter lick, you can file this one under “can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.”

The sly use of violin and cello during the choruses really brings out the emotional ache of the lyrics.  The Radiohead-style ending is a nice touch, too.

Tonight is the only love song here not dripping with bitterness and disappointment.  Malnar’s guitar work, from the riff to his solo, noticeably strengthen the arrangement.

When he’s not singing about relationships and his career aspirations, Maksym’s worried about the apocalypse (the engaging Give Me a Reason), supportive of the military and their families (the underwhelming Letters) and confronting an unrepentant pedophile (the insistent W5).

Vera City concludes with Little Thoughts, a typically catchy rocker about forging ahead despite the stranglehold a traumatic past can have on your personal development: “On the brink of self-destruction/We’ll let our diligence unfold.”

Like W5, it’s as close as the band comes to sounding like the Goo Goo Dolls. Nonetheless, it’s a fine way to end an album full of polished indie pop.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, June 14, 2015
4:52 p.m.

Published in: on June 14, 2015 at 4:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

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