Thursday, May 30, 2013

Journey To The Center Of Steve Perry's Voice

When I first started volunteering at my college radio station, KDVS, there was a DJ there named Ash. While Ash was only three or four years older than I was, when you're 19, three or four years can seem like a lot. Ash had a show in which he played '60s soul and funk music. He used to say that almost all singers who weren't black were crap. Ash was white. He did have a few treasured exceptions, though, such as Elvis, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Elton John, Roxy Music, and Supertramp. The exception of which he was the proudest, however, was Journey. "Steve Perry is the greatest singer of all time," Ash used to say. "I could listen to Steve Perry any day, any time, anywhere." Ash had a way of blurring his genuine enthusiasm for artists with comical exaggeration. It was hard to tell when he was serious.

KDVS had a rule against playing "commercial, mainstream" music. The station received funding partially because it had pledged to play music that would not be played on other radio stations. This rule didn't seem to be strictly enforced, and I flaunted it frequently, but there was some music I definitely avoided putting on the air. Ash once told me a story about his attempt to play Journey on his show: "It was about two in the morning. I figured no one was really paying attention. I finally decided to do it. I put Journey on the turntable. The glorious sound of Steve Perry was blasting through the Central Valley airwaves. Suddenly, the station manager comes barging through the door, he breaks the lock, he's yelling 'Take it off! Take it off the air!' I grab a pipe, I'm ready to do everything in my power to keep Journey on the air. He smashes the glass with his fist, he reaches across the DJ console, and he rips the needle right off the record." I never found out if Ash's telling of this story was particularly accurate.

All of this is just a roundabout way of saying that Journey is the kind of band that people either love or hate. Oddly enough, I'm somewhat indifferent. I've never really been too big on "Don't Stop Believing," "Any Way You Want It," "Who's Crying Now," or "Faithfully." But when I like a Journey song, then God damn.

Journey were, according to AMG, a really bad progressive rock band languishing in obscurity, until they brought in a lead singer who promised to change their fortunes.

With Steve Perry at the mic, Infinity became a word-of-mouth hit. For instance, while "Lights" only peaked at #68 on its initial release, surely every man, woman, and child can sing the words from memory after decades of heavy radio play.

Although its slick corporate sound was the antithesis of punk, I think "Lights" makes a convincing argument in favor of studio craft. "Lights" doesn't make me think of "slick" so much as it makes me think of "crisp." The song is like a well-oiled machine, inexorably working its way through the speakers. Everything sounds so precise, so meticulous. The drums sound so crunchy. The bass sounds so full. The ensemble vocals, tweaked with a strange, robotic sheen, are like a fortress of smooth. Everything just glistens.

But gliding over this AOR beast is the precise, meticulous tenor of one Steve Perry. In his hands, every word becomes a poem, every syllable becomes a fairy tale. It's not "city," it's "ci-tay." It's not "I want to be there in my city," it's "Ooh I wanna be they-ay-uh-ayyy, in mah ci-tay." As he sings of longing for his hometown, I can't help but feel as though I'm driving over the Bay Bridge at 6:00 AM, just heading back from a cross-country road trip, and I'm coming out of that tunnel on Treasure Island, and the pride swells in my chest, and a solitary tear of appreciation is running down my cheek. Yes, Steve, "Whoa, oh, oh-oh-oh" indeed.

"But Little Earl," you say, " 'Lights' came out in 1978." Yes, I know. So why am I talking about it in my series on '80s power ballads? Because it's awesome, that's why. And because it sounds so '80s. Infinity did take a couple of years to become popular, after all. And "Lights" so perfectly established the '80s power ballad formula - a formula quickly exploited by the very same band.

It turns out, however, that not everyone in the group openly embraced "Open Arms":
Journey's guitarist Neal Schon reportedly disliked the song because "it was so far removed from anything [Journey] had ever attempted to record before". (drummer Steve Smith recalls that Schon noted that it "sounds kinda Mary Poppins"). Added to which the other members of the band were against the idea of performing ballads ... In the Journey episode of VH1's Behind the Music, Perry recalls the recording sessions for the song becoming an ordeal; Schon taunted Perry and Cain in the studio. But when the band performed it in concert for the first time during their Escape Tour in the fall of 1981, the audience was thunderstruck, much to Schon's disbelief. After two encores, the band left the stage and Schon suddenly said, "Man, that song really kicked ass!" Perry recalled being incensed at Schon's hypocrisy. "I looked at him, and I wanted to kill him," he later said.
And if there's anyone you don't want to fuck with, it's Steve Perry. Not that he needed those other guys anyway. Hell, the rest of Journey hardly even bothered to sing any backing vocals. Just give us the Perry, and stay out of the way.

I don't actually have too much to say about "Open Arms," but let's face it, the song speaks for itself. Any attempts at lyrical abstraction are cast aside; this is fireplace music right here. If the verses are like the slow, sensual slipping off of a dress, the chorus is the brutal penetration. Steve Perry is like a giant penis ... for your ears. Isn't that right, Ash?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

REO Speedwagon: Sadly, Not Really A Wagon, And Not Very Speedy Either

REO Speedwagon - the name sounds like a cross between R.E.M. and Jefferson Airplane. If only they were actually that. No, REO Speedwagon were run-of-the-mill arena rock. I don't remember much about REO Speedwagon from my childhood, and it's probably for the best. Occasionally I would hear snippets of their hits on those "Best of the '80s" TV infomercials, but that's about it. Still, I didn't think I could do a series on the Most Powerful '80s Power Ballads of Incredible Power without covering REO Speedwagon.

So, I looked them up on AMG, and I read Stephen Thomas Erlewine's review of their highest rated album, Hi Infidelity:
Many albums have scaled to the top of the American charts, many of them not so good, but few have been as widely forgotten and spurned as REO Speedwagon's Hi Infidelity ... This is the sound of the stadiums in that netherworld between giants like Zeppelin and MTV's slick, video-ready anthems. This is unabashedly mainstream rock, but there's a real urgency to the songs and the performances that gives it a real emotional core, even if the production keeps it tied to the early, previsual '80s. And so what if it does, because this is great arena rock, filled with hooks as expansive as Three Rivers Stadium and as catchy as the flu ... the album's title isn't just a clever pun, but a description of the tortured romantic relationships that populate this record's songs. This is really arena rock's Blood on the Tracks ... let's face it, their records were usually hit-and-miss affairs. But they did get it right once, and it's on this glorious record -- if you need proof why arena rock was giant, this is it.
"Arena rock's Blood on the Tracks"? All right. I was sold. I downloaded Hi Infidelity, and you know what? Erlewine may be on to something.

The album's big #1 hit, "Keep On Loving You," is one of those songs I never much cared for, but it's been growing on me. Or rather, let me just say that I am going to "keep on" listening to it. Lead singer Kevin Cronin, perhaps unintentionally, reveals the power ballad's potential roots in country music, drawing out the r's in "Fer-eh-verrr" so hard he would make Conway Twitty blush.

No, my favorite power ballad from Hi Infidelity would have to be the album's second biggest hit, "Take It on the Run," which only peaked at #5 on the charts, but peaked at #1 in my heart. The song's protagonist appears to be a victim of the game Telephone: "Heard it from a friend who/Heard it from a friend who/Heard it from another you'd been messing around." You know, you might want to verify that information with a primary source before you get all torn up about it.

While the opening is certainly arresting, it's those three big, heavy descending notes directly before the chorus that gives the song its oomph. With a power ballad, often it's the build-up that's just as key as the actual chorus. Picture this song without those three notes. It would be crap. It would be total crap. You wouldn't want this girl to take anything on the run - whatever "taking it on the run" means, because I don't exactly know. Actually, I heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend that it's ... Texas slang for diarrhea?

Monday, May 20, 2013

When ABBA Gets Divorced: Romance Loses, Art Wins

Most good singers can personalize the lyrics of a song, but my guess is, it probably helps when the lyrics in question are actually stemming from your actual personal life. Just ask ABBA's Agnetha Faltskog.

See, in 1980, ABBA had the musical world at its feet, but its romantic world was crumbling apart. Agnetha had been married to Bjorn, and Frida had been married to Benny, but both couples were unraveling. Well, if you think a break up is hard enough as it is, imagine breaking up with your band member, but staying in the band. Now imagine two couples doing it. Now imagine you're the biggest band in the world! A lesser act would have released a bunch of garbage. But ABBA turned their torment into (very glitzy) art.

In the early days, ABBA's lyrics were somewhat laughable, particularly their fondness for rhyming "honey" with "money/funny/sunny," but what did you expect? Have you ever tried to write a song in Swedish? That's what I thought. But by 1980, ABBA's lyrics were probably becoming better than the lyrics of most native English-speaking songwriters. Domestic strife will do that to you. "The Winner Takes It All" isn't a mere break-up song. "The Winner Takes It All" is an epic lament about the insignificance of the human race in an apathetic and uncaring universe. "The gods may throw the dice/Their minds as cold as ice/And someone way down here/Loses someone dear," Agnetha sings. Or "The judges will decide/The likes of me abide/Spectators of the show/Always staying low." Sounds like Benny and Bjorn had been reading some Schopenhauer. Robert Smith, eat your heart out.

And the public ate it up. God how they ate it up. The song became ABBA's eighth UK #1 hit, and one of their biggest American hits, peaking at #8 on the pop chart and #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Well, Benny and Bjorn may have engineered this rocket ship, but it was Agnetha who sent it into orbit. Her voice is recorded so precisely, so cleanly, that when she hits the big notes, it's almost a little disturbing. She really earns her paycheck in the last verse, speak-singing in a desolate whisper, as the couple is trying to find peace in the aftermath: "I apologize/If it makes you feel bad/Seeing me so tense/No self-confidence." Maybe things aren't so bad after all? Maybe they can still help each other out on some level, even if their time as a couple is over? Then Agnetha adds a "But you see..." But you see? But you see what? What is it, Agnetha?

"The winner takes it aaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllll!!"

She lets out a pained cry of such volcanic force that even those indifferent gods should be able to hear her. Whenever I listen to this part of the song, I always imagine Agnetha sitting on the floor of a giant discoteque, and there's a camera on the ceiling pointing downward, and right when she hits that note, the camera pans back and the whole disco starts swirling around her in a deadly spiral of synthesized doom, as Frida, Benny and Bjorn chime in like the Greek chorus in the background: "So the winner/Takes it all/And the loser/Has to fall." Yeah, I think we got that already.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Zrbo Reviews: BioShock Infinite (Levine, 2013)

Let's get it out of the way up front: BioShock Infinite is a flawed masterpiece. Arriving with enormous hype, the game was meant to be creative director Ken Levine's crowning achievement. Expanding and iterating on 2007's BioShock, BioShock Infinite was destined to tell a grand story. Set in 1912, Infinite promised to explore everything from American Exceptionalism to turn of the century Christian revivalism. Where BioShock showed the disaster in Ayn Rand Objectivism, Infinite promised it would have something to say about America's past. Booting up the game for the first time I was excited to see how these themes would play out, to see how Levine would use the BioShock template to explore issues rarely addressed in gaming. Instead I found a game that utilizes those issues as little more than window dressing, delivering serviceable game at best. At least he bothered to include an absolutely amazing ending.

Set in an alternate universe version of 1912, you play as Booker DeWitt. Deep in some gambling debts, he's enlisted to go to the flying city of Columbia to retrieve a certain girl. "Bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt" you are told over and over again.

Arriving in the secessionist flying city of Columbia, the player is treated to an idealized version of turn of the century American life. Columbia is obsessed with America to the extreme, with the founding fathers seen as saints, and George Washington as the second coming of Christ. The entire city is the plan of self proclaimed prophet Zachary Comstock. As you explore the city, and eventually find the girl, you come to witness that all is not as bright and cheerful as first appears. There's dark undercurrents to this white-washed version of America.

But back to the girl. Her name is Elizabeth, and curiously she's kept apart from the rest of the citizens of Columbia, locked in a tower. Ken Levine spent years developing her character, and Courtnee Draper gives a great performance. At times Elizabeth veers dangerously close to becoming a Disney Princess, but I'll at least give it to Levine that she never quite crosses that line. However, I feel there's a lot more they could have done with her. Though we get to know her fairly well, there's times where I just wanted Booker to ask her some basic questions, like, what are your feelings about being a locked in a tower for your entire life? Elizabeth is also gifted with a strange power, able to open rifts in space-time, often resulting in glimpses of a strange future, one where movie theaters are showing something called Revenge of the Jedi and where automobiles drive around playing strangely familiar music.

After finding Elizabeth most of the rest of the game involves Booker and her trying to escape Columbia. While the opening of the game is spectacular as you are introduced to this idealized America floating in the sky, the middle of the game suffers. Basically you end up running around Columbia, running into various characters and struggles, but all in all not much really seems to happen. All of these amazing ideas are right there for exploration, from America's treatment of Native Americans, to slavery, to Reconstruction, to religious zealotry... and the game does very little with it all. To tell the truth I was fairly bored. The entire middle 50% of the game almost feels like filler. It's not until about three quarters of the way through do things pick up again.
Almost a Disney Princess... almost.

But when they do, oh boy do things get interesting. I really don't want to ruin anything here because the ending is wonderfully executed. I didn't quite believe the game reviewers when they said the last 30 minutes were some of the most extraordinary they've experienced in modern gaming, but I will admit that my jaw hit the floor, accompanied by a huge grin on my face when I finally got there. When the credits rolled I had to rush to the Internet to discuss the ending with others. It's like the first time you saw Inception or the Sixth Sense where you leave the theater discussing with others all the different layers of dreams, whether Leo was still in a dream at the end, and wow, so I guess Bruce Willis was ghost the whole time! So at least there was some pretty good payoff at the end, but it was a bit of a slog to get there.

Ken Levine certainly drew upon a slew of popular influences when crafting Infinite. The opening scene at the lighthouse practically screams Close Encounters of the Third Kind, while the floating city of Columbia seems influenced in part by Jules Verne and cloud city from The Empire Strikes Back. Ken Levine has cited 1944's Meet Me in St. Louis as an inspiration, drawing upon it's classic Americana look.

Then there's the more curious influences. Throughout the game the player comes across moments where familiar yet out-of-place for the era songs can be heard, but all done in a very unusual style. Everything from a pipe organ version of Girls Just Want to Have Fun, REM's Shiny Happy People, to Fortunate Son. What makes these musical pieces all the more interesting is that they're not inserted into the game Baz Luhrmann style, unnecessarily crammed into the game to get us to smirk fondly. Instead the reasoning behind their placement is explained through plot and makes surprisingly sense once you understand what's going on. Upon completion of the game one realizes just how much the lyrics speak to the characters and the story. Girls Just Want to Have Fun takes on a tragic meaning, while The Beach Boys' God Only Knows becomes a summation of the entire game. It's actually rather ingenious once you've played through the entire game.

So here we are. What do I think of the game? I'm divided. One of the first pieces I read upon completion was this bit by Daniel Golding and I instantly connected. Where was the nuance, where was the moral dilemma? I'll just let Mr. Golding speak:
In taking the game seriously, I want to be as clear as possible: BioShock Infinite uses racism for no other reason than to make itself seem clever. Worse, it uses racism and real events in an incredibly superficial way—BioShock Infinite seeks not to make any meaningful statement about history or racism or America, but instead seeks to use an aesthetics of ‘racism’ and ‘history’ as a barrier to point to and claim importance. BioShock Infinite presents a veneer of intelligence—with wholly unexplored and mystifying asides to complicated concepts like Manifest Destiny and the New Eden—without ever following through. Without any deeper exploration of these ideas, BioShock Infinite’s use of American history and the Columbian Exposition is illusory, and already puts the lie to the claim that by engaging with these themes, BioShock Infinite is the place to find substance in mainstream videogames.
Over at the A.V. Club's Gameological Society, John Teti points out the false equivalence present in the game's message:
Levine sets up a conflict between American exceptionalism and rabble-rousing populism, but he punts by casting practically every prominent figure in Columbian politics as an irredeemable asshole... The takeaway is that anyone who seeks power is a scoundrel... The intellectual dodge of calling everyone a loser excuses Infinite from having a meaningful political point of view.
It's true, the game, like it's predecessor, promises to show us the danger in following a line of thinking too far, in the original BioShock it was Objectivism, here it's more or less American Exceptionalism, but unlike in that first game, the game leaves the player with nothing to takeaway except "they were all bad people". Levine seems unwilling to take a stand, and the game suffers for it.

However, I just can't get over that ending. It was fairly brilliant, and managed to wipe away most of the bad taste the rest of the game left in my mouth. If The Usual Suspects had been a poorly directed movie but still included the same twist ending, you'd probably think "damn that was a boring movie, but wow, who woulda thunk Kaiser Soze was him??" I was prepared to give the game a fairly low rating, but the ending actually turned me around somewhat. If anything, now that I know the twist, I'd like to play through it again so that I can enjoy all the hints and foreshadowing. Until then, I'll leave you with my score.

4/5 Zrbo points

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Go-Go's "Sex Tape"

No, it's not really a "Sex Tape" - at least not in the classic sense. None of the Go-Go's even get naked, although some male companions certainly do. Here's a description that someone provided in the comments section of Jane Wiedlin's AV Club article:
Not a music video, but the VHS videotape you could buy under-the-counter at indie music stores in the 80's-90's. The Rob Lowe video was usually paired up on there. I guess Jane Wiedlin wasn't around for it, as she is too good and pure. It's just Belinda and the bass player, all doped up on pills, trying to convince a groupie to go down on one of their roadies, who's completely passed out. They fail to convince her, so it ends with them sodomizing the guy with a beer bottle. You know, that one.
Oh, right, that one. How, precisely, did this charming little clip come about? From Lips Unsealed:
In January 1982, we were in Atlanta and I was at dinner with one of our roadies at the local Holiday Inn, listening to him tell me in Penthouse Forum-type detail about his and our other roadies' adventures from the previous night ... I wasn't a prude, but whoa, I was shocked by what he said they had done. I wanted to know how these guys were able to convince women to do such things. What I really wanted to know was who these young women were; they met strangers in a bar and a few hours later were in a hotel room doing things that porn stars might have found hard-core.

"What's going on out there?" I asked. "What's the secret?"

"Alcohol," our roadie said with a shrug.
Yes, alcohol - the explanation for so many inexplicable moments in our lives. Well, it turns out Belinda wanted a little taste of the action herself.

The entire video, obviously, is not available on YouTube, but you can catch a brief excerpt of it in the band's infamous Behind the Music episode (an episode that's even more disturbing given that, even though all the band members spend the episode talking about their "drug past," Belinda is clearly still coked out of her mind and possibly hung over as well). Nevertheless, starting at 2:18, you can experience the younger Belinda providing the video with its "money" quote: "Why can't girls jack off? If you can't get sex, then the perfect thing for you to do is to jack off. If you have enough imagination, if you have enough drive, then you gotta jack off."

I agree. Here are some excerpts from a terrific summary (provided to me by an anonymous comment left on one of my very first Go-Go's posts):
The tape plummets further into the depths of embarrassment as Kathy decides that, since they have a masturbating man at their disposal, they should utilize him and create an 'art' film. They try and cajole Elaine, their female aquaintance, into helping young David, seated oh-so-seductively on a toilet seat with his limp member in hand, achieve an erection. Elaine, to her credit, refuses to use her hand or mouth on him, despite Belinda's assurance that "No one -- no one -- will see your face". Kathy then decides it would be 'interesting' to simply film David "beating off" as Elaine watches him and reacts. Kathy, the most vehemently in favour of creating the art film, forcefully tries to direct Elaine and becomes visibly irritated when Elaine's acting appears less than sincere. Kathy is heard at one point saying in an annoyed tone of voice, "Just do it! Try and act passionate, like it's gettin' you off! For just one minute!"
Come on Elaine! Geez! We're trying to make an art film here!
Unfortunately, David had ingested 4 quaaludes which hindered his capabilities and, despite his pleadings for someone to "Just give me a little head and then I'll get hard", and Belinda's willingness to provide him with masturbatory images of all 5 Go-Go's in "camisoles that show off the tits", the entire event was anti-climactic. Kathy appeared on film to offer this summation:

"The thing is, some things start, some things finish, some things never happen at all, some things you try to make happen as we saw tonight. But the thing is, don't expect a conclusion to everything. Just enjoy it for what's happening. It was high entertainment value this evening on a KUNT broadcast . And, uh, you know, sorry it didn't get all the way done, but that's the end of our show tonight. Thank you, thank you."
See, you've got to hand it to the Go-Go's: even when they were being depraved and sleazy, at least they were being depraved and sleazy in a creative way. Apparently, in a later segment in the video, Kathy can be seen covering David's body with shaving cream and running a match along his ass. I mean damn. Who knew Kathy was such a fiend?

Here's what Belinda had to say about "that video" in a recent interview: "It was just a drug-fuelled night of stupid debauchery that I'm very ashamed of, I have to say. I can't watch it. It makes me uncomfortable, I think I'm creepy on it. I was fuelled up on many different drugs. So it's the most anti-drug film that you'll ever see."

You got that? The most anti-drug film you'll ever see. Pay attention kids.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Why Is Jennifer Warnes Singing With That Homeless Guy?

An Officer and a Gentleman is another one of those '80s movies that everybody supposedly remembers fondly but that I've never seen. Occasional random viewings of the ending, where Richard Gene romantically carries Debra Winger out of a factory in his arms, pretty much zapped any curiosity I might have had. I just remember The Simpsons making fun of it one time.

I'm not here to talk about An Officer and a Gentleman, however. I'm here to talk about the song that played over that inspiring/groan-inducing ending. "Up Where We Belong" may have been the most unlikely pairing of beauty and the beast since Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle (and perhaps wasn't outdone until the pairing of Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue). In one corner, we have the sweet, angelic, countrified soprano of Jennifer Warnes, who sounds like she just came back from a Disney soundtrack. In the other corner, we have the craggy, booze-soaked growl of Joe Cocker, a singer who perennially sounds like he is splitting his own throat in half. On paper, it should have been a disaster. But in the studio, it was hot, sweaty soft-rock magic.

By the time the chorus comes, Warnes doesn't even know what to do in relation to the seizure victim standing next to her, so she essentially just lays low and lets Joe fly his freak flag. An actual eagle crying does not sound as sickly and tortured as Joe does when he is singing that lyric.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Chicago: Hard To Say You're Selling Out

Many, if not most, of the artistically credible mainstream acts of the '70s grew a little slicker as they entered the '80s, but few of them pulled a Chicago.

Some time around 1969 and 1970, Chicago, along with Blood, Sweat & Tears, attempted to create "jazz rock," a genre that the world did not necessarily ask for. Perhaps taking the term a bit too literally, Chicago melded horn instruments with rock guitars and thought it was cool. Hey, "Good Morning, Good Morning" was a fun song off Sgt. Pepper, but did we really need an entire band that wanted to sound like it? If anything, the bands that got closer to the spirit of "jazz rock" were probably artists like the Doors and Pink Floyd. But Chicago were JAZZ ROCK in capital letters, with super-duper fancy musicianship, and they wanted you to know it. True Chicago fans would say that their early '70s albums, none of which I've actually heard, are their best, but based on the singles I know, I am not rushing out to listen to them. I don't dislike early Chicago, but they strike me as somewhat humorless and stiff. For example: Chicago were the kind of band who named every album Chicago III, Chicago IV, Chicago V, etc., and thought it was a good idea.

Then one day, Chicago decided to exploit the vocal prowess and romantic appeal of co-lead singer Peter Cetera. It was time to increase the syrupy ballad quotient. I imagine one of the horn players at the session crying "Sellout!" and storming off in a huff, while the other band members waved him goodbye with the $1,000 bills that they happened to have been holding in their hands at the time.

Fast-forward to 1982. The band is in the commercial toilet. They've finally abandoned their numerical album-naming motif, only to name said album Hot Streets, and have promptly switched back in a flush of embarrassment. But Chicago XIV has peaked at a measly #71. It's time for drastic measures. All notions of propriety and taste and "jazz rock" are to be cast aside. The band needs a hit.

A piano dances along like a sparkling stream, only to fall into a stately, martial rhythm. A cello groans in the distance. The wait. The unbearable, agonizing wait.

"Everybody needs a little time a-whhhey/I heard her seyyy/From each uhhhh-thuhhh."

Peter Cetera's voice is like heroin sprinkled with M&M's. Every syllable is smooth, yet firm. He begins all alone, and then on "I heard her say," he becomes double-tracked, and then on "From each other," the backing vocalist joins him. It's staggered to perfection.

And just when you think the song's got nothing left, there's the bridge. Oh God, the bridge. "Afterrrrall that ah-wuh-heeve been threuuu/Ahh will make it-up-to-you." Particularly distinctive is Cetera's elongation of "done," rendered something like "said and duhhh-hunnn." And just when you realize the only thing the song needs is drums ... well, in come the drums. The second time around is even more brutal than the first, particularly the teasing pause at 2:22, where you're just waiting, waiting for that bridge, until finally it arrives, even more glorious than before. One TUKC later and this baby's gone nuclear.

Chicago doesn't seem to have made an official video for the song, but on Youtube there is a clip that appears to be from a Spanish television show. The funny thing is, Peter Cetera looks exactly like how I'd always imagined he'd look when he's singing the lyrics. He clenches his jaw in all the precise places I pictured him clenching his jaw. He closes his eyes in all the precise moments I imagined him closing his eyes. He turns his neck at all the exact times I figured he would turn his neck. The man just feels the music.

Of course, no power ballad is complete without a guitar solo, and on "Hard To Say I'm Sorry" we get a tasty one from ... wait for it ... Steve Lukather of Toto (although the overweight gentleman in the YouTube clip does not appear to be Lukather, and this touring stand-in also clearly did not receive the memo that Chicago were now supposed to be chiseled romantic hearthrobs). Cetera mutters something to the effect of "You're naugh gunna be the lucky one!" and all the instruments recede, leaving only the piano, which fades softly in the distance.

And that's it, right? Well, that's it for the single mix. But on the album mix, Chicago couldn't leave well enough alone. See, on the album, "Hard To Say I'm Sorry" segues into a peppy, uptempo track called "Getaway." At first, there's a monolithic drum roll that seems to suit the track well, but then the brass section comes in, and ... I just ... here are the lyrics: "When we get there gonna jump in the air/No one'll see us 'cause there's nobody there/After all you know we really don't care/Hold on, I'm gonna take you there."

No, wait, Chicago! What are you doing? You're totally killing the mood! It was like they couldn't quite stomach the idea of completely abandoning every last remaining shred of credibility they had left, so they tried to tack a more typical "Chicago" sounding bit onto the end of their glossy power ballad. "Look! See! We're still jazz rock!" Radio DJs heard that last part and gently put their fingers on the "fade" button.

Chicago couldn't even sell out properly.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Music of Bioshock Infinite

I recently completed playing Bioshock Infinite, the long awaited successor to 2007's Bioshock, regarded as one of this generation's gaming masterpieces. There's a lot to say about Bioshock Infinite, which I'll get to in a proper review. For now you just need to know that the game takes place in 1912, in the flying city of Columbia.

But everything's not quite what it seems in this turn of the century steampunk wonderland. As you make your way around Columbia you might overhear a little music playing in the background, perhaps in a shop, or coming from someone's record player in their home. If you stop and listen you'll notice there's something familiar about this music. That song playing as you stroll down a Coney Island-like boardwalk... is that? Yes, it is indeed my friend. Let's take a listen perhaps some of the most strangest renditions of songs you assuredly know.

Lou Albano playing the pipe organ?

Tears in the key of Fears?

It ain't me who turned this into a negro spiritual.

Ed Cobb in a skimmer hat?

And perhaps the most impressive...

I'll try to get my review up soon.