Thursday, April 20, 2006

You wanted the best, you got the best!

(I just posted the following review of a KISS tribute album "Kiss My Ass" to Amazon. Just my little part in participating in Web 2.0. I gave it three stars.)

I've had this album for a while, but hadn't listened to it much. Now it's in my car and I'm developing stronger opinions about it.

First of all... I don't think there's another album where I disagree with so many Amazon reviews.

Second of all... some explanation of my grading. I believe that if you're going to do a cover, you have to bring something to the party to make it an interesting version and in some way better than the original. Note for note copies are worthless. Did you ever hear Poison's cover of Loggins and Messina's "Your Mama Don't Dance"? This to me is the worst cover of all time. They do nothing new, except smooth over any actual articulation of the lyrics, and they don't even bring the high heat. Frankly, if you can't rock harder than Kenny Loggins, then for God's sake, DO NOT COVER HIS SONGS! Please. This is not a high bar. Bottom line... three stars on my scale means "worth listening to" and five means "You just have to hear this."

OK, on to the review...

1. Deuce - Lenny Kravitz (Four stars)

The crutch to avoid on this song is depending on the percussive effect of the main riff. That is what makes this song unforgettable and distinctly KISS. Lenny not only doesn't lean on it, he omits it entirely. Instead, he puts in his thing: Those self-harmonizing two-line vocals. Keep the critical steady hard drumbeats and add the harmonica solo, and you have a song that enriches the canon. Good job.

2. Hard Luck Woman - Garth Brooks (One star)
I can't believe other people like this cover. By my criteria, it absolutely bites. Garth's version adds nothing. I have the distinct impression that he was so happy to be on a tribute album of a band he liked when he was a kid that he picked one that he could do in his style and "respect it" by doing nothing different. What would have been much much better is if Gene had landed Rod Stewart to sing it, as the original intention was to get him to record it in the first place. Gene's got such good business sense that I have to think he tried and it just didn't work out.

3. She - Anthrax (Three stars)
I don't remember too much about this song except that I felt that it was probably a pretty fair infusion of style and trademark sound of a band I don't listen to. Good drumming. Actually, there's good energetic drumming on this whole album.

4. Christine Sixteen - Gin Blossoms (Three stars)
Like "Deuce," it would be easy to lean on the piano part, but the Gin Blossoms pay proper respect by keeping it out of the intro and saving it for the chorus. You can't take it out entirely... it's just too important, but you can dial it back a little for flavor, and so they did. The readings of Gene's talking lines are a little drab, but they redeemed it at the end with, "I don't usually say things like this to girls your age... well, maybe sometimes."

5. Rock And Roll All Night - Toad The Wet Sprocket (Three stars)
This was the song I was most interested in hearing when I got the album. At first, I was very disappointed with the tempo change and the overall treatment. But then I decided that it was a bold move, and there's no point in trying to rock harder than KISS on this song. So Glen backed away from that challenge and went the other way entirely. Good for him.

6. Calling Dr. Love - Shandi's Addiction (Four stars)
This song starts with an entirely unrecognizeable intro, then clears the deck for one lone overdriven guitar than bangs out the main riff. Then they let the cowbell fall in ("I need more COWBELL!") and then a switch to a modern headbanger style; quite different from the original. I think with that you have the finest four-bar instrumental tribute and update to KISS on the whole album. That pretty much sums up the exultation of loving KISS as a kid and taking it home with the air guitar. Another treat is the odd vocals on the chorus. It's a call-and-response with one voice singing the line straight and another responding through a CB radio. I don't know who came up with that kooky idea, but it grabs you by the short hairs and makes you listen.

7. Goin' Blind - Dinosaur Jr. (Three stars)
This song is much heavier than the original, and that is for the better. The weight of the instrumentation and the vocals is an improvement for a song that depends on the sickness of the line "I'm 93, you're sixteen, and I think I'm goin' blind."

8. Strutter - Extreme (Three stars)
I have to say that I think Cerone and Nuno stole the show at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert with their version of "Love of My Life -> More Than Words." I think they have a perfect balance of respect for the source material plus adding their own emotion to the songs. Nuno changes the main riff to be unrecognizable, and he delivers on the solo. You think no one but Paul Stanley can bring it on "I know a thing or two about her" but Cerone does a good job.

9. Plaster Caster - The Lemonheads (Three stars)
I like that this song draws attention to an underrated KISS song. I had no idea what this was really about when I was a kid, but the idea and subtlety of "The plaster's gettin' harder and my love is perfection" and "And if you wanna see my love, just ask her" is great rock and roll lyric writing. Plus, coming from Gene (who cataloged all his conquests with Poloroids and notes about each girl's proclivities) it's perfectly ironic to write a song about a woman collecting her casts.

10. Detroit Rock City - The Mighty Mighty Bosstones (Four stars)
This song has several brilliant turns. The first is that it opens with the sound of a guy coming home to an answering machine message from Gene saying that they can't do this song because it's spoken for. When he gets to "You can choose ANY OTHER SONG and it'll be fine" they cut him off with the famous intro riff. Kudos to them for telling Gene to shove it on his own product, and to Gene for having a great sense of humor about it. Second, the vocal is a great tribute to Gene singing. I don't mean Gene Simmons' actual voice, but what The Demon would sound like if he actually sung. This isn't a Paul song at all in this version. Thirdly, any band that can pull off horns on the chorus and solo of Detroit Rock City has basically figured out how to jack into the Matrix. Good move.

11. Black Diamond - Yoshiki (Three stars)
Honestly, I think an orchestral treatment of Black Diamond is not all that inspired and misses the point. But they peg my own meter on doing something different, and I can imagine being a teenager again and putting it on for my classical-loving Dad just in hopes of having the joy of having him admit he likes a KISS song. Heh heh. You go, Yoshiki.

While this album has no five star tracks in my opinion (examples: "Top of the World" on the Carpenters' tribute or "U.S. Blues" on "Deadicated"), it is nonetheless a pretty good product. It does the job on having a lot of worthwhile covers.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

There’s been something bugging me about a buzzword I’ve been hearing for years. People refer to “verticals” all the time. What they actually mean is “industries,” such as travel, auctions, clothing, whatever. You might think that I’m just mad people are using an economic term to sound smart when there’s a perfectly good familiar word to use. Oh, if only that were all.

The problem is that they’re using the word wrong! In Economics, they taught us that vertical integration is the practice of buying up companies that are further upstream or downstream in the product process than you are. That could be an oil refinery buying up gas stations, or a clothing store getting into manufacturing their own lines. Horizontal integration is the practice of buying up companies that serve different segments of the same market you’re already in. Examples include AOL buying TimeWarner as another media company, or Honda deciding that they need to make an SUV too. If you’re talking about marketing web services to the travel industry, you’re only concerned about people selling to actual travelers. You don’t care about selling to Boeing because they make the planes or GM because they make the rental cars! Verticals is the wrong word! It’s horizontals!

Of course, people who use the term “verticals” can’t even tell you what a “horizontal” is. They’re stupid and they deserve to be punished. Or as Anton Le Vey said, "It's too bad that stupidity isn't painful."