Wait! He’s actually writing about music…

The missus and I were having a conversation about pop music the other day. This is, pretty much a regular occurrence around our household. We’re both record collector nerds with way more records and CDs than sense. This particular conversation was inspired by the missus taking a glance at the Billboard album charts.

She looked over the charts and saw lots of names she didn’t recognize and was curious how many I’d know or know about. We both recognized the same number of names, but I’d actually heard more of the artists in question. This got me to thinking about the current distance between myself and youth culture. I just turned 37 years old. I suppose it’s something of an achievement that I actually know some of the artists in the top 40 today. But what I was really thinking about was how most of the folks burning up the charts today not only leave me cold, but leave me baffled. So, I thought I’d do a run-down of what the pop charts look like to a guy whose youth is receding at about the same pace as his hairline.

So here’s what the top twenty albums in the US are today, and what I think of them. Like my review of the Democratic candidates, this is probably likely to have all the depth of a kiddie pool on a hot summer day in Alamogordo.

#1 – Ruben Studdard – Soulful

I was pulling for Ruben on American Idol. Mostly I was pulling for him because Clay Aiken made me want to punch kittens. Ruben can sing. It’s too bad for him that all the great R&B songwriters are either tapped out, dead or retired. This man could really use a good Holland, Dozier, Holland tune. I’m actually impressed that someone with this much talent is at number one. Still, that’s mostly due to the fact that he was the de facto star of a hit reality TV series. I doubt he’ll do as well with his next record.

#2 – Alicia Keys – The Diary of Alicia Keys

Again, I’m impressed. This woman can sing, and she plays a mean piano. And like Ruben she was born into the wrong decade. A woman of her talent in the 1970s would have made mindblowing music.

#3 – Various Artists – NOW 14

I think the record industry ought to see the success of this continuing series of hits compilations for what it represents – the exact same zeitgeist that’s driving kids to use file sharing. The fundamental unit of exchange in pop music is the song. The music business is screwed because they’ve chained their horses to the CD/LP. Most artists are not capable of making an entire album of music that anyone wants to hear. People buy these comps and download songs off of Kazaa for the same reason – because they don’t want a whole CD of Britney Spears or Ricky Martin or Ruben Studdard, etc. They want that one song that they really like, and that’s all. 

#4 – Toby Keith – Shock’n Y’all

Nope. I know nothing about this person, other than that his record title is really stupid.

#5 – Josh Groban – Closer

I’ve heard one song by this young man and it made me want to slit his throat and take a shit right on his larynx. I think it was supposed to be inspirational. It inspired me to retch.

#6 – OutKast – Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

I know that these guys do hip hop, and I’m reasonably certain that I’ve heard their stuff (since a fair number of my coworkers listen to the local hip-hop station non-stop during the workday), but I couldn’t pick them out of a crowd. 

#7 – Rod Stewart – As Time Goes By… The Great American Songbook Vol. II

You know, most people don’t know it, but in 1969 Rod Stewart was the proverbial shiznit. He had a great voice and was a pretty fair lyricist. Then he sold his brain for cocaine in the mid 1970s and has made some of the most embarrassing records of the last 30 years. He manages that most amazing of all feats – he’s more ridiculous than Mick Jagger. Enough Rod.

#8 – Hilary Duff – Metamorphosis

Have Disney no shame? I remember last summer when Hilary’s latest movie was in the theaters being just astonished that the studio was selling her movie by using posters that emphasized her bosom. Now granted, movie studios do this all the time with actresses, it’s just that there’s something a bit wrong with using this marketing technique to sell a movie staring a 15 year old. Actually, it’s just plain fucked up. And to think that Disney was upset with Miramax about Bad Santa. What’s worse, a drunken Santa Claus who swears and robs department stores, or getting people to go to a movie to leer at a teenage girl’s boobs? Anyway, I haven’t heard this record and probably won’t. I’m guessing it probably sounds a lot like the rest of the former Mouskateer’s records that have been inundating our airwaves for the past five or six years.

#9 – Sheryl Crow – The Very Best of Sheryl Crow

Huh? Not only does Sheryl’s music make me want to dry heave, but I doubt that even people who like her could name four songs by her, let alone an entire CD that could comprise a “very best of” collection. Sheryl Crow is one of the reasons I automatically dislike any music that comes from Los Angeles. She does serve one constructive purpose though. Like the Eagles and their godawful records, Sheryl Crow serves as a reminder to me of why I love punk rock.

#10 – Britney Spears – In the Zone

How the mighty have fallen. According to the chart, Britney was number two last week. And her peak position on the chart was number one. Britney, I’d like you to meet someone who may be able to help you accept your fate. Her name is Debbie Gibson, and she had your job about 18 years ago.

#11 – Clay Aiken – Measure of a Man

HURL! What kind of a name is Clay anyway? Were his parents enthusiastic soap opera fans or something? I predict that there is going to come a time, about twenty years from now, when all it will take for someone to be elected President is to not have a really stupid first name. “The year is 2024 and the candidates are… Lakeesha Monroe, D’Shawn Bradford, Trent Martin, Blaine Chan, Felicity Jacobs, Drew Bishop and Frank Johnson. The winner is the next President, Frank Johnson. The voters clearly preferred knowing that he was the child of sensible parents.” 

Ok, beyond my contempt for Clay’s stupid name, he’s got the kind of face that you just know would look great with your boot print on it. 

#12 – No Doubt – The Singles 1992-2003

This is somewhat like that Sheryl Crow thing. Correct me if I’m wrong folks, but between 1992 and 2003 No Doubt released a grand total of four CDs. On each there were a couple of hits. How does that justify a hits collection? This is just a label being cheap. Although I’d wager that more copies of this will sell than their last two CDs did.

#13 – Musiq – soulstar

Nope. I know as much about this as I do about quantum mechanics. Actually, I know a lot more about quantum mechanics than I do about this record or artist. Although I do know that the artist’s name is about as silly as one of those metal bands from the 80s who put umlauts in their name to make it look more interesting.

#14 – Sarah McLachlan – Afterglow

People actually buy her records? Who knew.

#15 – Alan Jackson – Greatest Hits Volume II and Some Other Stuff

Young country makes my ass itch.

#16 – Westside Connection – Terrorist Threats

I’m guessing this isn’t as interesting as the Coup.

#17 – Harry Connick, Jr. – Harry For The Holidays

The poor man’s Frank Sinatra is still making records. Well, at least he wised up and stopped trying to be a rock star.

#18 – Avant – Private Room


#19 – Blink 182 – Blink 182

Ok folks, new rule. You’re not allowed to have a self-titled album unless it’s your first release. I’ve come up with album titles myself. It’s not that hard. Beyond that, this band sucks. They’re a pale imitation of punk rock who go straight after the drunken frat boy demographic. Hey, there’s a title for them – Music to Date Rape By.

#20 – The Beatles – Let It Be… Naked

Back when I was in high school you could buy this record in any one of about ten record shops in Berkeley. It was sold under the title “Get Back” as a bootleg and was basically the same thing they’re selling her. At one point, Paul McCartney actually said in an interview that any Beatles fan should seek out a copy of that bootleg to hear what the band had really wanted Let It Be to sound like. Paul’s biggest objection was that both the title track and “The Long And Winding Road” had been so over orchestrated by producer Phil Spector that they’d been rendered into total schmaltz. The thing is, I used to have a copy of “Get Back” and the fact of the matter is, Paulie, those songs ARE total schmaltz. Phil Spector was just following your lead, pal. You’re the one who put the treacle in the pan. He just finished baking it.

So, that’s the top 20 for this week. The really remarkable thing is that there is not one single record on the above list that I have the slightest interest in. It’s not just that I’m “too old for pop music.” That’s part of what’s going on here, most certainly. There’s more to it though. These 20 CDs are a perfect snapshot at the rubbish that the big record labels pour their resources into producing, marketing and selling these days. 

And these people wonder why their sales figures are plummeting year after year. Put out some decent music and maybe someone will want to buy it. As long as you folks keep releasing forgettable trash then we’ll be content to hit Kazaa for that occasional seasonal song of interest.

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