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I'm martin sheen, I'm steve mcqueen

On the ride in to work today, I listened to R.E.M.'s New Adventures in Hi-Fi from 1996 -- it's sorta their Running on Empty, all original songs recorded in soundchecks, live performances, and hotel rooms along their tour in support of the Monster album. It also turned out to be their last record with drummer Bill Berry, who shortly quit after his aneurysm scare on the Monster tour. It's an inconsistent record, but also, I think, one of their most underrated. The guitar riffs on "Departure" and "Wake-Up Bomb" are massive -- with all the feedback that marked Monster, but with much better melodies. Then there are the more subdued numbers, with some of Stipe's most straightahead -- and successful -- lyrics, escaping the opaque stream-of-consciousness that marred many earlier songs. "New Test Leper" muses on Jesus' teachings, but even better is "Electrolite," one of the best songs about Los Angeles of the last ten years.

posted by Anon. 9:05 AM


More on the Oscars

I was glad that Eminem won -- and gladder still that it registered shock in Streisand reading the winner -- but I gotta say, I had never heard that Paul Simon song, from the Wild Thornberrys -- and I liked it. A lot.

The U2 song was weak, though.

posted by Anon. 9:10 PM
I'm walking through streets that are dead

Anyone else notice -- and feel sick to the stomach -- that Dylan sold "Lovesick Blues" to... Victoria's Secret, in an ad apparing on the Oscars?

posted by Anon. 9:06 PM
Put them in a box until a quieter time

What to do with Dave Matthews? He seems to combine the worst of several worlds: the trustfund hippiedom homogenity of the Phish jamband scene, mixed with a Vh-1 blandness. Worse, he's prone to putting a few "funky" songs on his albums -- "What Would You Say" and its heirs -- that just don't quite work or, for that matter, work it.

And yet. Everytime I've heard a duet between him and Emmylou Harris, it's terrific. ("Gulfcoast Highway," "Long Black Veil," "My Antonia.") And this morning, I listened to his first major label album -- Under the Table and Dreaming, from '94 or so -- and I had forgotten that I did genuinely like a few, just a few, of the songs on that album. "The Best of What's Around" is a lovely song with unusual chord changes, and "Ants Marching" is an anthem that's hard not to get into. But even on this album, there are several songs that I just skip.

It was produced by Steve Lillywhite, though, who's had one of the more unusual resumes of any guy I know out there. He worked on many of the best U2 records with Eno and Lanois, worked on the Pogues, worked on Phish (doing arguably their best record, Billy Breathes), and all this and was married to the late, underrated Kirsty MacColl (forgive the spelling, but it's only 9 AM here.) It's crisp and clean, layered without being overly glossy. Good stuff.

posted by Anon. 9:10 AM