Tag Archives: Lil Wayne

Is The Album Cover-Art a Dying Art Form?

 

I recently read an article in the New York Times that discussed the shrinking of album artwork. The piece argued that elaborate cover art seems to be out of fashion, and its in place artists are opting for simple designs that can be fully seen on computers and iPods. The close-up of Lady Gaga’s face for Born This Way, and the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s fly on a pill for I’m With You were cited as examples.

While cover-art certainly isn’t indicative of what the music is like, it does seem to be a lost art form. Has there been an album cover released in the past few years that has already become iconic? Pearl Jam’s cover for 2009’s Backspacer was pretty nifty with 9 different images from cartoonist Tom Tomorrow, but it didn’t seem to represent the music that was on the actual disc. The childhood portrait of Lil Wayne on the cover Tha Carter III is visually intriguing and tells an interesting story, but I always felt the typography seemed a bit off.  The Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light seems too much like a throwback with its collage of portraits highlighted in different colors.

Perhaps the music industry and musicians themselves think that no one really cares, and they will only view it on their iPod (or perhaps not at all.) I’m not certain about anyone else, but I find it hard to listen to songs either on my computer (or iPod) if there is accompanying artwork to go with it. I recently started downloading the cover-art of albums whose covers I don’t have and then trying to import them into iTunes. It’s a long, laborious project and so far I’m only up to letter K.  I feel much better listening to The Beatles on my computer if I can actually see the cover for Revolver.

Still, graphic designers might set some of the blame on simpler cover-art. As a former student in Graphic Design, clean and simple design with lots of white space tend to gain more favor by professors and those in the actual field. While the cover of Sgt. Pepper is certainly iconic, I’m not entirely sure it would be looked on as the artistic achievement it is, if it were released now. I can also most hear somebody suggest that, “there is too much going on, your eye doesn’t know where to focus!”

As a kid, I was totally transfixed by the cover-art of certain albums. It could sometimes defined the way I listened to particular albums. I bought The Clash’s “London Calling” after reading how great it was in a British Magazine in high school. The image of Paul Simonon smashing his bass and the Elvis Presley reference in the typography was one of the coolest things I ever seen. When it came time to listen to the disc I was slightly disappointed that the music didn’t match Simonon’s anger and frustration. What was this reggae shit? It’s supposed to be punk!  (For the record, London Calling is one of my favorite albums of all time).

If album cover-art keeps “shrinking” as the Times referred to it, a valuable part of music will be lost. It’s just another casualty of the presence of digital music and furthers confirms my theory that music is becoming more and more of something to listen to in the background rather than actively listening to it for its own merits.

 

 

 

 

173 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Could Another Album Capture the World’s Imagination Like Nirvana’s “Nevermind”?

(Note: I was going to use the original album cover, but I read somewhere that Facebook banned it.)

 

Spin recently put an issue solely devoted to the 20th Anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind. There were numerous tributes by musicians and artist who talked about how the album influenced their lives.

I was nine when the album was released, so I was too young to realize its significance at the time. I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” from my older brother when he returned home from college and I thought it was one of the greatest things I had ever heard. The guitars screamed from the speakers and yet there was a catchiness to it that couldn’t be denied. Even though I had no idea what the lyrics were, but I knew the song was special.

But its true impact was lost on me. I had no idea that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” ignited a revolution, and broke punk rock in the mainstream.  In the following months, Pearl Jam was the band that seemed to be everywhere.  I read the issue of Time Magazine with Eddie Vedder on the front while waiting for my mother in the doctor’s office.

In the years since, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Nevermind. On a purely musical level, I find it to be over-rated. Yes, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is a great song and anthem, but the album seems to be cluttered way too many half-baked songs.  The ones that do work for me – “Drain You” and “Lounge Act”  – only seem good in comparison to the lackluster ones and are drowned out by the greatness of “Teen Spirit”.

That being said, I can’t deny Nevermind’s significance. Everybody had a copy of that album and got caught up in its energy. Even rap-stars such as Chuck D and Lil Wayne had professed their love for Nevermind. It really did get the world excited, proving that music can be a force for change and a form of catharsis for an alienated generation.

Millions of identified with Cobain because he seemed like a nobody who achieve greatness. In the late 70s and 80s rock had become too flashy and the lyrics became unidentifiable to many. Bon Jovi may have had massive success, but the big-hair and excessive left many feeling cheated. This was rock and roll to have a good time to, but if you were looking for something more, hair-bands weren’t going to offer it.

Cobain looked and acted like the guy next door. His hair was a mess; he wore Chuck Taylors, and dyed his hair different colors. And like Bob Dylan, he proved to a mass audience that you don’t have to be a technically good singer to make people get inside the songs.  On the outside, Cobain was everybody.

20 years later, and Nevermind might the last album that became a rallying cry and had an impact outside of the musical landscape. No album since then has the same influence across the board.

Could a new Nevermind capture the current world’s imagination? Spin suggests that the reason for Nevermind’s success had to do with the anger of the youth, and the conservative swing of Reagan-era America. If that were all it took (and a damn good band and a couple of great songs), surely this new musical revolution would have already happened. The world seems in a worse place than it has in years, and people are pissed at the economy, the war, and many other things.  As the country gears up for another election, it seems more divide than ever. Just look at the recent Debt Crisis talks. Our leaders  -the ones who are supposed to be in charge can’t agree on anything.

So much has changed in the last twenty years that is sometimes hard to comprehend how far we’ve come. The Internet barely existed in 1991, and CDs still sold well. The combination of the Internet’s presence and the lack of CD sales would make it extremely hard for an album to galvanize a generation the way Nevermind did.

People looked to Kurt Cobain because he expressed sentiments that they didn’t know they felt. As the Internet gave birth to blogs, suddenly everyone who didn’t have a voice was able to post their thoughts instantly. Who needs someone to express your thoughts for you, if you can show the world exactly what is on your mind?

As digital albums climb, and sales of CDs decline, the sentimental value also drowns. It’s harder to be attached to something – emotionally or physically – if there’s only a file. Numerous articles have stated that more people listen to music than ever before. But we’re not sitting listening absorbing it. IPods might be convenient, but music has become something to put on in the background whether it’s while running or riding a subway. Putting on a whole record and taking in the artistry of a song has become something for music obsessives and teenage “freaks”.

The emotional attachment to a song might become a thing of the past.

There have been some artists and artists since Nevermind that have achieved a legendary status beyond the music. Yet they’ve never managed to leap into the cultural stratosphere. Radiohead’s Kid A, while love by hard-core and critics, is too cold and atmospheric.  Kanye West is too polarizing and controversial, despite having a string of brilliant albums. Lady Gaga comes close as a voice for the LGBT community, but it’s still hard for some to take a pop artist seriously.

All of this makes the success of Nevermind even more perplexing. There’s no doubt that it came out at the right time and right place. But no one was betting on it to change the world when it came out, least of all Nirvana. Change like that can’t be predicted, and maybe the next musical revolution will happen when an artist isn’t even trying. Or maybe it already has occurred and no one has noticed.

As Cobain would say, “Oh well. Whatever. Nevermind.”

8 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Ten Most Important Artists Of The Last Decade (Full List)

This is technically a repost, but for those interested it’s all in one spot.

1.) The White Stripes

2.) Kanye West

3.) Jay-Z

4.) Britney Spears

5.) Danger Mouse

6.) The Strokes

7.) Radiohead

8.) Lil Wayne

9.) Green Day

10.) Death Cab For Cutie

33 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Ten Most Important Artists of the Last Decade: 8. Lil Wayne

The first time I heard Lil Wayne’s voice was on the song, “Barry Bonds” off of Kanye West’s Graduation in 2007. I knew of him, but never actually listened to him. When he appeared on the second verse on the song, in his thick syrup induced drawl, my head turned. “What the fuck is this?”, I thought in astonishment. It was unlike anything I heard in hip-hop. His flow seemed to work around the beat, as opposed to be linked to it. And then there were the bizarre lyrics: “my drink’s still pinker than the easter rabbit”; “stove on my waist turn beef to patties”. It was clear even then, that the dude followed his own path. Instead of following the normal rules, he seemed to be re-writing them as he went along.

His voice is everywhere these days – besides his own songs, it seems that he is on almost every single hip-hop song on the radio. It seems so commonplace, so it’s easy to forget how weird, bizarre, and how good he can be. Many rappers stick to a constant flow in the song, making it easy to rap along. In any one of his songs, Wayne takes detours that others would be afraid to take. His voice is not normal, and he often enunciates particular words that would otherwise be un-rhymeable – “I’m rare like mr clean with hair, No brake lights on my car rear” from “Phone Home”. “A Milli” is one of the strangest hip-hop songs to be released in the past few decades. There’s no hook, except for the statement, “motherfucker I’m ill”. From anything other rapper, the strange beats and repeated “a milli” voice in the background would have been annoying, but Wayne sees it as a challenge, delivering a tour de force of a song.

Prior to Tha Carter III, he built up a following with the albums 500 Degreez, and Tha Carter. But it was really his mix-tapes Dedication 2 and Da Drought 3 and his appearances on singles from Fat Joe (“Make it Rain”), Chris Brown (“Gimme That”) and Wyclef Jean (“Sweetest Girl (Dollar Bill)”) among numerous others in 2006 and 2007 that gained him a wider audience. When Tha Carter III was released in June 2008, it was clear that hip-hop belonged to Lil Wayne.

But being his unpredictable self, Wayne followed-up the blockbuster Carter III with the critically panned Rebirth, which was his much touted rock album. To some, Rebirth might be seen as mistake (and while it certainly is forgettable) it proves that Lil Wayne does whatever he wants, critics and detractors be damned.

Is Weezy, the best rapper alive, as he has often claimed?  Perhaps.  If nothing else he is without a doubt one of the most innovative, prolific, entertaining and wildest rappers out there.

2 Comments

Filed under Most Important Artists, Music

The Absurd Review – Kid Cudi -Man on the Moon II – The Legend of Mr. Rager

Kid Cudi’s sophomore effort, Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager plays like a hip-hop version of In Utero – an artist gets big and decides that he doesn’t like what he’s seen.  Since the release of Man on the Moon last year, Cudi developed a coke habit, eventually getting arrested this past summer.

There is no boasting about how great Cudi’s life was a coke-head (even though much of the album sounds like a hip-hop version of Dark Side of the Moon, especially Marijuana which has a Gilmour-like solo throughout).  Cudi not only loves the darkness, he “wants to marry it.”  “It is my cloak.  It is my shield.  It is my cape,” He declares in “Maniac”  a haunting track featuring indie singer Saint Vincent.  Elsewhere, “Wild’n Cuz I’m Young” sounds like it was recorded in a dark basement or underground.  If this is what Cudi meant by marrying the darkness, he found it in this song.  Unfortunately, what would have other-wise been an album highlight is marred by the use of Autotune.  “Marijuana”

“Erase Me” finds Cudi taking on arena rock – it’s even got a softer verse and loud chorus which proves that Cudi seems to have a a better understanding of a rock song than Lil Wayne.  Interestingly on the song where he actually does sing, he ditches the Autotune.  The only problem with the song, is the inclusion of the usually reliable Kanye West, who seems sapped of his energy and his muse on his verse.

Some reviews have stated that this album is over indulgent but the blend of spaced-out rock and hip-hop elevates Man on the Moon II above Cudi’s indulgences and self-loathing.  But the main flaw of the album isn’t Cudi using the album as catharsis, it’s that it doesn’t seem convincing. Cudi seems to like the darkness too much or is stoned too much to really break out and exorcise his demons.  If only his delivery matched the music and the lyrics, Man on the Moon II could be hip-hop’s version of In Utero or Plastic Ono Band. As it is though, it’s an impressive effort from an emerging artist.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Lil Wayne, MTV and Hypocrisy

Yesterday, after spending 8 months for gun charges at Rikers, Lil Wayne was released. The music industry is probably happy to have one of its biggest stars free, even though his latest album I Am Not Human released last month, is selling well.  MTV.com spent the day with round the clock news and updates about Wayne’s release.

Flashback to 2003 when Jay-Z released the “controversial” video for “99 Problems”.  In the video, Jay is shot to death (which was supposed to symbolize his “death” and retirement from rap.)  Before it was aired, MTV flashed PR videos about gun violence and John Norris went on to explain something about the “artistic merit” of the song and video, lest anyone get any ideas.

And here they are 7 years later, practically praising Lil Wayne for his stint in jail.  Once again, MTV is showing its hypocrisy.  The channel is notorious for its shows glamorizing sex (“Jersey Shore” in particular), and fights (“The Real World”, and once again “Jersey Shore”).  Yet, during an episode of Teen Mom they placed ad for Domestic Abuse Centers, and also have been advocating the anti-cyberbullying movement.  While I do agree with the message, you can’t tell me that the cast of “Jersey Shore” as they slam each other into walls, and Lil Wayne with his gun charge are getting the message that MTV so clearly wants its audience to hear.

(And for the record, I do like some of Wayne’s music, and I hope that he gets his act together after his sentence.  Unlike TI.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

1965 Songs: “Play With Fire”

“Play With Fire:” is a under-rated and forgotten gem in the Rolling Stones’ vast catalogue.  Its sparse production, simple acoustic arrangement, and Mick Jagger’s haunting vocals easily distinguish it from the rest of the songs that the Stones were putting out in the early 60’s.  But the lyrics are of course, all Jagger who warns his target: “don’t play with me, cuz you’ll play with fire.”  It doesn’t matter anymore if Jagger could go his satisfaction, he’s going off the rails against girls with diamonds and bows who get chauffeured around.  One has to wonder if Jagger is calling out girls who tried to think they were cool by being part of the underground movement, but were really just stuck.

Although the song is credited to Nanker Phelge, the bands’ pseudonym for when all members of the band received writing credits instead of Jagger/Richards, they are in fact the only two songs that appear on the track.  Phil Spector handled bass, and Jack Nietzsche played the signature harpsichord part.

“Play with Fire” was used in the 2007 movie “The Darjeeling Limited”, which I how I first it.  (Terrible I know, considering that the Stones are among my favorite groups.)  Lil Wayne was also sued by the Rolling Stones for using portions of the song without permission.  What’s interesting about the lawsuit was the Stone’s Abkco’s reaction:

Abkco also said that Lil Wayne’s version uses “explicit, sexist and offensive language” and could lead the public to believe the company and the Rolling Stones approved of and authorized the new version.

“Play With Fire”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized