Tag Archives: VMag

Madonna-Ray of Light Carwreck Archives #5 May 1998

This is another off the wall review from VMag, May 1998. God bless Murphy, the editor for understanding these reviews in all their not so subtleties. Part Five of a look at the Carwreck Archives. These pieces were written for VMag, a music and arts magazine from the late 1990’s until the early 2000’s. Home to some pretty amazing writers, all under the patient watch of editor Murphy, one of the best of the best. Some reviews were quick hits, some were downright strange.

After getting hired for faxing the magazine a single sentence, Murphy asked for another review for the May 1998 issue to go with the Ani Difranco one I’d submitted. This one ended up as the lead review for that issue. It’s truly amazing that  this record still stands up pretty well today, 18 years later. 

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Madonna -Ray of Light (Maverick/WB)

Once upon a time, there was a little blonde girl who fell down a rabbit hole. At the bottom of the hole was a room full of mirrors, and every mirror that the little girl looked into had a different reflection. Identities swirled around her as she pirouetted in the center of the room, finally stopping in front of one. ‘Goodness me’ she exclaimed, regarding herself in the mirror, “…a techno princess!”

Madonna’s long route to 1998 has been fraught with a multiple array of personalities both divergent and occasionally embarrassing.  The common denominator to these changes is her glomming on to the latest fad, thereby appearing current and hip.

The electronica boom, and the ensuing crossover success of Bjork and Portishead in this field has not escaped the constantly scanning eye of Madonna. Attempting at first to enlist Prodigy (of  Smack My Bitch Up fame) to produce her new record (who politely declined with a terse ‘Fuck off’), her searchlights descended upon William Orbit, whose techno resume was sufficiently solid enough to inject a smidgen of credibility into this project.

The result, however derivative, is fairly successful. The key to judging any Madonna release is the question: “Would you really ever listen to this  outside of a dance club?” That most people’s answer will be ‘yes’ is  going to puzzle a lot of folks. I hate to use the words ‘Madonna’ and ‘maturity’ in the same sentence, but the new post-techno format elicits a strikingly reflective and thoughtful side to her that most would think never existed.

The opening cut, ‘Substitute For Love‘, strikes a brooding mood immediately–awash in the thick echoes of midrange and muted breakbeats so currently in vogue in the Bjork and Portishead camps, it’s a strangely heartfelt meditation, bordering on –dare I say?—SPIRITUALITY. A spiritually dreamy trance-like state permeates the album. Indo-trance pop influence bubble under the techno veneer, most evident in the piece ‘Shanti Ashtangi’. This song (and much of the album) is strongly reminiscent of the pioneer of the trance pop genre, Sheila Chandra and Monsoon. Spiritual influences dart in and out of songs-oops, there she goes again, apologizing for being shallow and self-centered for the last fifteen years. (Nothing Really Matters)

Although Ray of Light is fairly strong all the way through (the exuberant title track and the quirky ‘Skin‘ in particular), the musical reference points on the album are symptomatic of the problem in Madonna’s recent work. Her innovative strengths seem to have faded into the background, and her talents have shifted to successfully latching on to others and adapting their work to her own ends. Sometimes the result is disastrous (Bedtime Stories, I’m Breathless), but this time Madonna-with William Orbit–has crafted a highly listenable, laid back journey through the current looking glass.

Ani Difranco-Little Plastic Castle May 1998 Carwreck Archives #4

This is another off the wall review from VMag, May 1998. God bless Murphy, the editor for understanding these reviews in all their not so subtleties. Part Four of a look at the Carwreck Archives. These pieces were written for VMag, a music and arts magazine from the late 1990’s until the early 2000’s. Home to some pretty amazing writers, all under the patient watch of editor Murphy, one of the best of the best. Some reviews were quick hits, some were downright strange.

This review was my first one for VMag. I had been working at a record store and was in contact with the magazine through their ad rep who came through often. I faxed over to them a single sentence, the opening line to this review. Within 5 minutes, the store fax machine lit up, and this message spat out:

“You’re hired. Finish the review. Call me.”

Working at a store within spitting distance of Smith College, some of the concerns noted were a possibility (my previous record store had Smithies and their compatriots superglue the locks shut for selling CDs that ‘exploited women’).   In retrospect, it is kind of amazing to get hired on the basis of a single sentence. Like I said above, Murphy’s instincts were razor sharp.

 

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Ani Difranco-Little Plastic Castle (Righteous Babe)

Truly a phenomenon, Ani Difranco has the same effect on young women of unfixed gender preference that Adolf Hitler had on Germans of the 1930’s: blind obedience, unswerving loyalty, and a belief in the messianic. With that in mind, it is very difficult to fairly appraise her work without fear of lynching at the hands of PC-addled brickbat wielding fem-bots.

This record is certainly going to be looked at as a watermark: a clear divider between the old and the new. This will be the record that finally alienates the coffeehouse Ani crowd and introduces her to the REAL WORLD. Her older fans will always pick this record out as the one that killed ‘the scene’ and wistfully recount alternate lyrics she sang on the Puddle Diver tour, while wiping away a tear.

Newer fans, unaware of the near Deadhead-like behavior of the older crowd, will latch onto this one like an infant confronted with its first sugar donut. References to fledgling lesbian experiences will delight the last brace of fans unaware of her persistent avowed heterosexuality. Her songstress skills are still evident in enough quantity to keep the older fans from completely abandoning ship, but lyrically she veers perilously close to self-parody–a theme hinted at by the album artwork.

An appearance by the avant-garde trumpeter John Hassell and former Peter Gabriel drummer Jerry Marotta lend a breadth of musicality to this album that shows an artist striving to break the cumbersome shackles of preconceptions that she’s been saddled with. For some though, these changes will mark the end of an era and the expiration of some special secret.

Yes-Open Your Eyes: Carwreck Archives #3 August 1998

This is another off the wall review from VMag, August 1998. God bless Murphy, the editor for understanding these reviews in all their not so subtleties. Part Three of a look at the Carwreck Archives. These pieces were written for VMag, a music and arts magazine from the late 1990’s until the early 2000’s. Home to some pretty amazing writers, all under the patient watch of editor Murphy, one of the best of the best. Some reviews were quick hits, some were downright strange. The following is one of the latter. Murphy published this untouched in the pre Columbine world,  only commenting dryly “So you didn’t like it?”.

Yes-Open Your Eyes (Beyond/Tommy Boy) 1998

Zack skated around the corner of his street, the dread in his heart increasing. He knew, of course, that his parents would be home. His mom was kinda straight, but his dad….uh….well, his friends thought they were OK but Zack knew they were so, well–friggin’ goofy.  His dad reviewed records for the Springfield paper, and regarded himself as damn hip. If it wasn’t bad enough that Zack had to absorb eternal grief for his skateboarding, they’d also made him get rid of all his piercings.

Now his old man was censoring what he would bring home to listen to. Ever since he’d seen his dad snap the Fugazi and Life of Agony discs in half right in front of him, Zack had settled on a compromise plan. CD’s would be smuggled into the house inside innocuous looking jewel cased covers.

He entered the front  door quietly. -“Oh Christ there he is…”

Zack’s dad looked up from an ancient issue of Crawdaddy.  “What ya got there, sport?” he asked,  noticing  the CD’s in in Zack’s hand. He peered into the darkness of the doorway to see….

“Hmmm, YES, Open Your Eyes and the Symphonic Pink Floyd? That Billy Sherwood certainly has revitalized Yes, hasn’t he? I mean, I had my doubts during the Buggles era, but now, whew! Four stars next Sunday, y’know? Dad said to no one in particular as Zack quickly exited toward his room.

Sliding the deadbolt shut, Zack tossed the Yes and Floyd onto his dresser, on top of the Pearl Jam-Yield and Dave Matthews- Live empty cases. Opening his five CD changer, he carefully loaded the new Hatebreed and Snapcase into the machine, and donned his headphones. “They should be happy I’m not a metalhead anymore” he intoned to the empty room.

Zack absently picked at the shrinking scab on his arm, until a dark crimson globe appeared, shining at the corner. Zack regarded the reflection of the light in the growing orb, and chuckled to himself.

“Yup, it’s decided, tomorrow’s the day…”   He glanced around his room at the Queen, No Doubt and Bush posters his dad had bought him.

“….tomorrow, I finally will kill both of them.”

-Carwreck deBangs,  August 1998

 

 

Carwreck Archives #1 December 1999 Ted Nugent-Great Gonzos (Best Of) remastered

Part One of a look at the Carwreck Archives. These pieces were written for VMag, a music and arts magazine from the late 1990’s until the early 2000’s. Home to some pretty amazing writers, all under the patient watch of editor Murphy, one of the best of the best. Some reviews were quick hits, some were downright strange. The following is one of the latter (in light of the Nuge’s later proclivities, this one now seems oddly prescient).

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Ted Nugent-Great Gonzos (Best of) remastered   Epic

Classification: Secret (declassified 11.9.99) 

The following is an excerpt from a Michigan Federal Court House wiretap #11790. Extremist subgroup; Nugent cousins MF and ML discuss holidays.

(begin transmission) “…..ok kids, your uncle Ted is coming over for Thanksgiving dinner today. Now, he’s a little different. If he’s wearing a loin cloth today, remember it’s to honor our Indian brothers, not any dysfunctional behavior. And if he comes in with a freshly killed turkey, well he hunted it himself with a bow and arrow just like the Indians. Let’s try to forget the last Thanksgiving and the cat impalement incident. I know what your mother has said about this, and I’m sure she’s still mad about Uncle Ted and your cousin Lolita-you know the one who had to be sent away to boarding school for nine months? Anyway, we should familiarize ourselves a little bit before he gets here. Gather round the Close n’ Play while grampa Joe gets out his 45 collection. Not guns. Joe Jr.—records. Yup, records like your parents used to collect.

First, your uncle Ted like cats a lot. and I’m sure he’s very sorry he shot Mr Jingles last year. I’m not totally sorry he shot the neighbors two alley cats, but we had to pretend we were sorry. Anyway the sings about cats a lot, look here, one of his records is even called Cat Scratch Fever.!  It has lines about pussy cats and stuff. You know, most of his songs are about pussy cats. He doesn’t actually say cat, after pussy, but he’s from Detroit and you know how those city folk like to abbreviate.

He likes the guitar a lot. * I think he’s been playing in those ‘rock n’ roll’ bands for about thirty five years now. Your aunt says he doesn’t ever even use those fancy guitar pedals, just an amp and a Gibson Birdland guitar. You know once he played in a stadium in Kansas City I think, and the got noise complaints from three miles away. Imagine! She said that Ted told her he saw a mouse run onstage during a show, during a guitar solo, got in front of his amplifier, and died. from the volume! He swore it was true!  Lord knows he’s always liked loud music. Those Amboy Dukes friends of his used to scare me in the 60’s.  “Journey to the Center of Your Mind”, and he swears he never did drugs? They used to rehearse in the garage over here, and I tell you, those cigarettes could have been laced with Mary Jane. He certainly acts like they were.

Oh, this song sounds like that guy Meat Loaf is singing. It is? He was around before Bat Out of Hell? “Dog Eat Dog“? That’s not about cats Wow. this is cool!   Slick instrumental interplay–not what people remember uncle Ted for. And this one–“Stranglehold“. Isn’t this on the Dazed and Confused soundtrack? Long and spacey–out there! ‘This is a lot different than I remembered. It’s really good. Oh, this song must be about starting old fashioned Model T cars, “Yank Me, Crank Me”. Your uncle just has so many interests. Oops, there he is, make yourselves look nice!. He’s getting out…no loincloth., good….what’s that in his hands?…..children, go to  your rooms right now.!!!……….(end transmission)

Case closed 11.5.98–not considered a threat to family or friends.

-FBI Headquarters, Ann Arbor Michigan. (transcribed and edited by Carwreck deBangs)