Start Bouncing Like You on Ritalin
2011 YEAR-END BALLOT1. “Big Wheels,” Down with Webster: I suppose that ninth-generation Beastie Boys shtick is as perilously close to Sha Na Na territory as it gets in 2011--white dopes on punk, as Frank Kogan once wrote about “Give It Away,” although being Canadian, maybe they’re more like white dopes on the McKenzie Brothers. (A compatriot, I’m allowed to say that.) That’s okay; I find Down with Webster even funnier and catchier that LMFAO (who I like fine), and they’ve got a better video, too, which may pay homage to Go Ask Alice when the singer plays Button- Button and becomes entranced by the wonderment of his hand. They’re anthemizing and strate- gizing for all their grown-up little kids on “Big Wheels,” massing everyone together for a weekend of bongs and vodka and suburban lawn-stumbling, and if you’re foolish enough to take their dare and phone the cops on them, they’ll just say it’s soda pop and be back next week for more. I can personally vouch for the truth of this: I’ve phoned the cops on my neigh- bour’s idiot offspring more than once, and it doesn’t work. They will be back again. 2. “Beautiful People,” Chris Brown, and 3. “Cheers (Drink to That),” Rihanna: I’m sure I’m not alone in noticing that these two songs come close to sharing an exact same lyric: “Don’t let them (the bastards) bring (get) you down.” I find that amazing--if you think about the backstory for a second, it’s not difficult to figure out which line goes with which song. I have no special interest in the lives of Rihanna and Chris Brown, and I came to both songs accidentally, on the radio. I’ve hardly liked anything of Rihanna’s since “If It's Lovin' That You Want”; “Beautiful People” is the first Chris Brown song I’ve ever heard. My point is that I’m not someone who was waiting to hear how their public ordeal was going to make its way into their music. But it’s obliquely on display here, and it’s hard to ignore the cross-talk. The villain dissembles (or, if you’re less charitable, lies): he looks around and sees beautiful people everywhere he goes, celebrates them over a classically serene house track, and tries to inspire with his line about not letting some unnamed them get you down. The victim, meanwhile, loses herself inside a drinking song that’s neither a sentimental tub-thumper (even though I’m sure most people hear it as such) nor a frat- house boast (see #1); there’s instead something sinister and vindictive about “Cheers (Drink to That),” really nasty Harry Nilsson/Richard Burton stuff, and her line about not letting the bastards bring you down doesn’t come across as particularly inspirational. Different people remember and react to events different ways--there’s something Rashomon- like in the way these two songs circle around each other, not in the retelling of what happened but in how the participants choose to frame their re-emergence on the other side. I should, as a symbolic gesture, reverse the order, but I do have a slight preference for “Beautiful People.” 4. “Pumped Up Kicks,” Foster the People: Except for the message board I post on, I don’t read much of anything music-related anymore, but I’ll hazard a guess that they’re being written about as the Worst Thing Ever. (Everything’s the Worst Thing Ever on a message board, so you hardly take notice.) I’ll be tired of “Pumped Up Kicks” soon, but not yet. I didn’t realize it was a shooting-spree song at first--when I used it for student-entry music at the grade school where I teach (once a week the students supply the music), an- other teacher asked me if I should be playing such a song. No, I guess not. Of the four shooting-spree songs I know (Boomtown Rats, Pearl Jam, Filter), this one’s far and away the sprightliest; of the dozens of whistling songs I know, this is the only one about a shooting spree. 5. “Never Will Be Mine,” Rye Rye & Robyn: More proof of the Rob Sheffield Rule, which says you can’t write a bad song about waiting by the phone; this is a great one. Robyn is as eloquent and as magisterial (in the good sense--I think there’s a good sense) as she was on “With Every Heartbeat,” wrapping her voice around resignation and transforming it into a balm, while Rye Rye’s childlike jibber-jabber is pure Judy Holliday. I’d be quite content living without a phone. I pay six or seven hundred dollars a year for the privilege of being rude to telemarketers, charitable foundations, and political canvassers. A couple of times a month I call out for pizza. 6. “Distance,” Beach Fossils, and 7. “I Never Would,” Seapony: I find it harder and hard- er to say anything interesting about these low-fi (whatever) half-songs that fill one or two slots on my ballot every year. I always check to see if anybody else has voted for the ones I vote for, and nobody ever does, leading me to believe there are other such songs scattered throughout individual ballots that have only one vote too. It’s sad--ephemera by no one and for one, anonymous and all but unheard, floating away into the ether as soon as they’re over. 8. “Little Miami,” Wussy: When you catch up with somebody piecemeal, like I have with Wussy, you do dumb things like put them on your 2010 year-end list for a record that came out in May of 2009. This time I’m jumping the gun a bit--I’m supposed to be getting their new album for Christmas, but all I’ve heard thus far is a three-song EP and this. I expect/hope that some of Strawberry will be even better than “Little Miami,” but either way, they’re as close as I have right now to a favourite group in the world, and I want to vote for them every chance I get. The Gun Club, my favourite group in the world in 1982, also once made a record about Miami, imagining it in more or less the same way Wus- sy does, as some kind of end-of-the-world bad dream. Wussy is much better than the Gun Club ever was, though. I turned 50 this year, so I’m much wiser now about such matters. I see that Christgau’s given all four Wussy albums an A--not sure if there’s ever been anyone else who also started out four-for-four. The fact that I wonder about that is another good indication I turned 50 this year. 9. “Moreover,” Wire: I saw them (still three-quarters intact) for the first time earlier in the year. It wasn’t quite what I was hoping for: of the songs I really, really wanted to hear, “Map Reference” was all I got--no “Mannequin,” “Dot Dash,” “Too Late,” or “Ahead.” Patter was at a minimum; Graham Lewis made reference to the Toronto Blue Jays at one point (amateur sabermetrician--who knew?), and that was about it. They did play “Moreover,” my favourite song from the new album. Perhaps reinvigorated by Olivier Assayas’s spectacular appropriation of “Dot Dash” in last year’s Carlos, their typically obscure objects of agitation--I don’t know that I’ve ever known what a single Wire song is actually about-- are buried in a stop-start industrial drone so hard and precise on “Moreover” that Chairs Missing may as well have been last week. I’d have a hard time naming anyone who should be more encouraged to do what they do until the end of time. 10. “Born This Way,” Lady Gaga: Republican frontrunner for a few days in November, I be- lieve she was non-Romney #19: “She’s a completely loathsome human being,” explained an Iowa caucus-goer, “but she’s very sparkly, and she’s got way too much money to ever want to take us down the path to socialism.” Her moment was brief, though, and she quickly found herself pushed aside by an even sparklier inanimate kitchen utensil. (President Romney is going to come in very handy for Lady Gaga within a couple of years, when she’s through documenting every last square inch of The Seven Stages of Me and on the lookout for something else to write about.) For what it’s worth: I had a number of good Herman Cain quips on hand, but I didn’t know where to slot them.