Sunday, January 18, 2009

Anatomy of An Underrated Album

It's not included on the popular indie music website Pitchfork, nor is it included in the more mainstream music publication Spin. What should be considered one of the greatest albums of all-time, Fiona Apple's Tidal wasn't even invited to the party of essential recordings of the 90's from these two journalistic entities. And, while music is certainly a subjective topic, I personally feel that this album's greatness has been negated by outside forces beyond its control.

As Tidal made its way to record stores in 1996, the record executives at Sony were busy trying to sell this album on two radio-friendly singles - "Criminal" and "Sleep To Dream" - that never really fit the more jazzier/bluesy vibe that is the true strength of this album. And, as is the case with most female artists, they pushed "Criminal" by selling her sexuality instead of her artistry via the now infamous Mark Romanek directed video...

Fiona Apple - Criminal (Official Music Video) - Click here for more home videos
...and it worked. The marketing of "Criminal" made Tidal a commercial success, but it overshadowed the beautifully poetic lyrics of a vulnerable teenager who had seemingly lived a lifetime of pain. Fiona Apple was not a manufactured pop star - she was an artist. An artist, I might add, who as a child, was raped on her way home from school which surfaces in her songwriting throughout the album.

The second incident that took attention away from her talent was a speech she gave during the MTV music awards in 1997. She simply said that the world was bullshit and you shouldn't model yourself after celebrities. With the negative backlash that followed, you would have thought she uttered a racial slur. And it had an immediate impact on how she would be perceived. In his review of Apple's brilliant follow up album When The Pawn..., Pitchfork music critic, Chip Chanko, had this to say:
Fiona Apple is playing on my computer. And actually, I wasn't going to review it. I was just listening to it-- and enjoying it. ...Wait. Fiona Apple? Two years ago I hated her. Actually, up till a month ago I hated her. I thought she was just an annoying girl who'd been offered the microphone way too many times to voice conclusions she had spent her whole life (read: not that long) coming to. Why was this pretentious girl so famous? Why did they keep handing her the mic to quote Maya Angelou? Why did I keep watching her? The music on her first album failed to interest me. I thought it rambled. It drooped and moped. It dragged itself into bed and went to sleep. Ah, that actually sounds nice right now. It put me to sleep. In a bad way. The songs seemed to ramble on with a synthetic soul that spoke of a young girl admiring and trying to duplicate the styles of days past.

Whether you like Tidal or not is irrelevant. The real issue at hand is that of allowing outside forces to cloud your judgement on this album or any other album for that matter. Nonetheless, in this writer's humble opinion, Tidal is a masterpiece from a young girl writing with the pen of an old soul and I highly encourage you to listen to the otherwise "unfamiliar" songs on this album.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Gaza Rally

I attended a rally in support of Gaza today that took place outside of the State Capitol in downtown Austin. I'm not much of a protester or a demonstrator, so I don't attend these things on a regular basis, not to mention the fact that these rallies speak only to those who already support the cause and not to those who believe otherwise.

So, you may be asking yourself, did I "make a difference" today? No. In fact, I left the rally feeling somewhat deflated. Regardless of the number of rallies I attend; or the blogs I write; or the letters I send to my elected officials in protest of this injustice - nothing will change. Nothing will change until the polluted minds of the American majority are able to filter out the negative stereotypes of Arabs that they see and hear on television and in film.

As I write, more than 1,100 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, most of whom are not involved in the dispute between Israel and Hamas. Israel bombed a UN operated school where many civilians thought they were seeking safe refuge from the fighting. Israel bombed warehouses containing humanitarian aid supplies for the residents of Gaza. If Israel says its beef is with Hamas and not the citizens of Gaza, they have a "funny" way of showing it. They refuse media access within Gaza which is indicative of a nation that doesn't want its criminal activities broadcast to the world.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ryan Adams

In his blog, Ryan Adams announced yesterday that he was leaving music for a while due to hearing issues that were affecting his balance, as well as an overall need to get away from the limelight and the stressful effects of touring.

Adams has never been one to shy away from how he feels and, in regards to his legacy, he went on to say rather somberly, "I am a punchline and a footnote in what is worse to yell at someone than 'free-bird'. I mean, I lost."

While I am doubtful that the prolific Adams will be away from music for long, I do believe that he is an extremely misunderstood character and, for that, I can't help but sympathize with the guy . If Adams isn't the best songwriter of this decade, then he is certainly its most underrated. He writes incredibly good pop songs and gets no radio play whatsoever nor does he receive the best of reviews from music critics. He hasn't exactly helped his cause with his words or his actions in the past to smooth over his image but, honestly, would any of us fare any better if someone was constantly recording and keeping tabs of our bad days as we struggle with personal demons the way Adams has? Regardless, Adams seems destined to be that artist who isn't fully appreciated until after he is gone and that's unfortunate. In the arena of public image, Ryan Adams may have lost but, as an artist, he has done anything but.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Crisis in Gaza, Part 2

In the two weeks since Israel has been shelling Gaza, the Palestinian death toll is now up to 760 with no end in sight. In a 14-0 vote, the United Nations Security Council demanded an immediate cease-fire and called for the full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. Who abstained from this vote? The United States. And here lies the problem with our democracy. The Israeli lobby is one of the most powerful lobbies in the United States and instead of politicians doing what is right by Palestine, they would rather not ruffle the feathers of a group that funds their campaigns.

In a related news story, the Washington Post reported today that "The Red Cross has accused the Israeli military of repeatedly refusing to grant permission for ambulances to go to Zaytoun(neighborhood), even though soldiers were stationed outside the damaged houses and were aware people were wounded inside." In a statement issued early Thursday, the agency called the episode "unacceptable" and said the Israeli military had "failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded."

I would also like to point out that when you hear reports out of Israel that the reason there are so many civilian casualties in Gaza is because Hamas is cowardly hiding out in civilian populations - let me remind you that Gaza is a strip of land that is roughly 27 miles long and 6 miles wide with a population of approximately 1.5 MILLION PEOPLE. It is probably the most densely populated area in the world. There is no place to hide in Gaza.

Doesn't Palestine bring this on themselves by sending suicide bombers into Israel? Doesn't Israel have the right to defend themselves? Of course, Israel has the right to defend themselves, but you first have to ask yourself what makes Palestinians so angry that they are willing to blow themselves up in the first place? If you converted to Judaism today, you could fly out to Israel and become a citizen, no questions asked, and if there is no room for you, they will simply bulldoze a Palestinian's home to make room for you. They've been doing this for years while packing the Palestinian population like sardines in tiny strips of land controlled by Israel. There's a term for this - it's called "ethnic cleansing." Meanwhile, the United States says that it must defend the "sole democracy in the Middle East." But, I ask, what good is a democracy if it acts like a dictatorship?