22 May 2009

banging my head against a wall...

...and the wall finally gave a little this week.

In the first place, the sports-writing website has returned from the dead, and I will go back to writing about basketball. I liveblogged Game 2 of Nuggets vs Lakers, and while I'm certain that it will take a lot of practice for me to get better at producing insight and comedy in equal measure with this sort of writing, it's a start.

Also, I've discovered this website, Examiner.com. People write for it at the local (Denver Concert Venue Examiner) and national (Politics Examiner) level. I came across a solicitation for new writers on craigslist, and one of the open positions was for a "Star Trek Examiner." Of course, I got on that stuff right away, but, alas, to no avail. I was informed the position had already been filled.

However (however!), they felt my writing was so phenomenal that they wanted me on board in some other capacity. A little analysis of open positions and submission of a brief writing sample has landed me the position of National Marvel Comics Examiner. I'm going to try my best to make this actually something worth reading, so wish me luck as I blind email writers/artists begging them to let me interview them over email.

So, yeah. The wall gave a little this week. I can only hope that bodes well for the eventual future.

21 May 2009

star trekkin (part II)

I've made my decision: I'm placing Star Trek on the much-bandied-about third slot of my all-time favorite Star Trek films. I am, now, officially, discounting the TNG films in favor of anything with the original characters. As someone who grew up while first-run episodes of TNG were being produced, that's kind of heartbreaking, but that's the way it is.

In Part III, I pitch the story for the sequel.

20 May 2009

jesus christ, what a bad movie that was (the phantom menace memorial)


Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace could not have come at a more opportune time in my life, or so I thought at the time. It was my freshman year of high school, and I was in the process of forming fast friendships, some I cherish and others I and miss to this very day. Friendships with people who, among other things, like me, LOVED Star Wars. people who could quote the movie from memory with me, people with whom I could discuss the significance of Timothy Zahn, Michael Stackpole, Kevin J. Anderson, Aaron Alston, and the others that made up the vast menagerie of writers who'd contributed to this great American institution we called Star Wars.

More than that, though.., there was this girl. She knew EVERYTHING about Star Wars, tons about Buffy, played the odd video game.., plus, I was convinced she liked me (oh, high school, how simultaneously exhilirating and excruciating you were... "liking" people, and barely knowing what that meant). If it was possible for this girl to get any more awesome, I couldn't imagine how.

[ASIDE: The Star Wars Celebration, the first one, at the old Lowry base in Colorado, was easily the high water mark of my first year in high school, for many reasons, not the least of which, at the time, had to do with this very same girl. But, there's not really even a story there, so I won't try to force one. It was the weekend I figured out what sort of person I really was, and intermittently fought against embracing it for years. END ASIDE]

Turns out... The Phantom Menace. While we were both disallowed from dating until our 16th birthdays by both our sets of parents (perhaps for the best, the way things turned out),we still made plans to go see the movie together. A "non-non-date," perhaps.

Purchasing the soundtrack a month before the film's release (a soundtrack I feel ranks pretty highly with others Williams has produced - it's the only part of the film that doesn't flat-out disgust me) allowed the movie's truest dramatic moment - the death of Liam Neeson's Qui-Gon Jinn - to be ruined, but that was kind of okay. It was still Star Wars; I could still be hopeful.

The magical moment came (walking into the theater, filled with anticipation), and the magical moment went all too quickly, partly the result of a lack of genuine romantic chemistry (which I myself would not admit, sadly, for years - she was much more on the ball in that regard), and partly due to the fact that the movie we sat in the theater to watch was FUCKING TERRIBLE. From the shitty opening crawl (economic downturn, planet on the edge of the Republic... as Patton Oswalt might say, "Who gives a shit?"), to the bad fake Asian accents that Nute Gunray and the rest of the Nemoidians sported, to Ft. Collins, Colorado's own Jake Lloyd's god-awful performance as Anakin Skywalker (sure, he's a little kid, but so was Haley Joel Osment. And he was a great child actor), to the fact that the pod race went on too goddamn long, to the unforgivable underuse of Darth Maul, to the fact that Lucas obviously forgot everyone from the original trilogy (not to be a continuity whore, but well, I'm a continuity whore. Star Trek explained it away. Two lines of dialogue. Come on), to, yes, Jar Jar Binks.

Oh, Jar Jar. If the movie had come out only one year later, common perception could've been that he was the worst idea in popular entertainment in the 21st century (still, I'd contend). Instead, we had to close out the 90s with the most minstrel-show-ized character I'd yet seen in a film (not saying much, sure, but I was 15 at the time. Sue me). [ASIDE: My friend Travis and I, at the Star Wars Celebration, sat close to Ahmed Best - the man behind Jar Jar Binks - during Anthony Daniels' - C-3P0 - presentation. We were excited when we recognized him. We felt stupid for feeling that way once we saw the movie. END ASIDE] He destroyed every single scene he was in, including the less-than-climactic final battle between the native Naboo forces and the droids of the Trade Federation Army. Jar Jar would've been acceptable (well, not really - one could only hope we've moved past non-ironic race-based humor in this day and time, but as we've seen, that's not the case) in one of Disney's stupider animated films, but this was STAR WARS. Anything less than a total recapturing of the spirit of the first films was unacceptable. As a result, the film was unacceptable.

So, that's what I remember about my one and only viewing of that piece of unadulterated shit in the theater. In the words of Randall Graves, "I want my eight bucks back."

All apologies to the potentially-misrepresented and unnamed female party in this story. If you remember it differenty, and you read this, well, I'm all for setting the tale straight. Though, I doubt rehashing is high on either of our priority lists.

15 May 2009

21st century breakdown

I wish I wanted to write a big, ethralling piece about the latest Green Day album, but I just can't. It's not that I don't think it's good, because I do... I just don't feel any great, overpowering desire to share my thoughts on the subject.

Maybe it's because so many other people already have (Rolling Stone's review says quite a lot), or maybe because it just didn't punch me in the face like American Idiot, which was a validation of my long-held opinion that Billie Joe Armstrong was a hell of a lot smarter than everyone gave him credit for being. It was my, "See, motherfuckers? I was right!!" moment, and that just can't be duplicated.

This isn't to say that I don't like the album; it's quality. "Epic," as my friend Adam said. I think it's more... Green Day-y than American Idiot; the song lengths are more manageable, the snark is more present, but nothing really comes out and grabs me the way the title track does (and that, not as much as any track on American Idiot, despite what I wrote in my reaction to "Know Your Enemy").

American Idiot was, I dare to say, a once-in-a-lifetime record. It's tough to get two of them, no matter how hard you try.

Perhaps this requires more listenings. Sometimes things don't punch you in the face right away; they take their time, sidle up, get you nice and comfortable, and then... BAM!

I wouldn't put anyone off listening or purchasing, though. Perhaps it will speak to you more thoroughly than it does me.

11 May 2009

short fiction (I)

All right. Work's slow, there are 45 minutes left in the day (47, I guess), and I feel a strong desire to do something I've not done for a long time: write some prose. Let's see what happens.


The halls of the Faustus, like the halls of a hospital, smell vaguely of cleaning chemicals, the kind deadly to bacteria and sensitive nasal passages. More like a hospital long-since closed, but still maintained by a manically dedicated cleaning staff. Spotless. White, in the sections lit brightly enough to see by. Flat, from the uniform overhead light that shines in those spaces. Sterile.

The workers that do not sleep, that have not slept since their ship left the other side of the galaxy for its return trip, float through its passages, the light following them, inch by inch. The monolithic constructs look perfectly at home among the passages; they share the same absent color palette, the same missing definition. From time to time, the workers stop. Air wooshes from their underbellies, clearing a buildup of dust before sucking it inside. They patrol in solitude; it is unlikely that one would recognize a mate if they crossed paths.

The walls of these long hallways find themselves only broken up by sealed doors so flush with those walls that it would be all but impossible to differentiate one from the other, were it not for the labels adorning them. Here, too, spartan is the order of the day. MEDICAL. SERVER STORAGE. MAINTENANCE. RECREATION.

To see the Faustus only from the inside would be to miss much of what makes her special. Examining the exterior reveals a design of extraordinary grace, one that swims through the vacuum. For every harsh angle on display inside of her, a curve softly makes its presence known on the outside. The running lights that cross her long axis reveal a scheme of blended colors that would not look out of place on an earthbound marine mammal; the same for the lighting on her short. The lights form a pattern on Faustus' skin, drawing the eye to it rather than ushering attention away.

Beauty has been taken from the people inside the ship, and put on display for a lifeless void. Why shouldn't it? They have, after all, been locked inside their offices for centuries, alive now only because of the ship's twin triumphs: the cloning pond, and the memory transference tubules.


(God, can already you tell I've been writing screenplays, and haven't touched prose for years? Yeesh.)

star trekkin' (part I)

This was the first time I'd not been worried about a movie's quality since Iron Man, or The Dark Knight. That sounds kind of stupid, but it's true.

I don't know why I wasn't worried; J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot could be a perfect storm of failure. Between recasting some of the most iconic characters in American popular culture with a bunch of no-name, Abercrombie-model-looking 20-somethings, releasing trailers focus-grouped to appeal to the audience that will go see a space action movie featuring Abercrombie-model-looking 20-somethings, ignoring 40 years of enduring, if at times shaky, continuity, beating the magic flashback even further into the ground than its already been, and promising that the most lovably nerdy of American institutions, Star Trek, would appeal to people who don't know/care about the ridiculousness of the subject of the first time Dr. Leonard 'Bones' McCoy uttered the immortal words, "He's dead, Jim" (said about a poor little lizard dog who died as the result of a transporter accident), it sure looked like Abrams & Co. were readying their own petards for hoisting.

There was not a moment of this movie that gave credence to anyone's fears. Star Trek is precisely the sort of movie that made Hollywood an economic force to be reckoned with globally: adventurous, fun, filled with great character moments, engaging, smart, ambitious, and even memorable. It's everything a summer movie could hope to be, and, in a lot of ways, everything Star Trek movies have been trying to be from the very beginning.

I'll get my complaints out of the way, pithy though they may be, before singing the movie's praises at an unreasonably loud volume. Foremost, it really was popcorn Trek. That's not such a bad thing, because it serves the "accessible Trek" mantra, but it's something I should address, as a person who, just like Philip J. Fry, had the friend void filled many a time by the officers & crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. The plot holes that other people have brought up (some here, and a hell of a lot here - Devin's nitpicking is impressive almost to a fault) would be obnoxious, but a) this is Star Trek, and b) I was having too much fun to care. If Star Trek were a bad movie, sure, the fact that black holes don't behave like black holes ought to would piss me off, but I loved this movie, so I don't care. I found myself far more distracted by Spock's five o'clock shadow, to be honest. The lens flares (about which the DP said,
"There's something about these flares, especially in a movie that potentially could be incredibly sterile and overly controlled by CGI, that's just incredibly unpredictable and gorgeous." - thanks, IMDb) could've gotten obnoxious, but I think J.J. & Co. learned their lesson from Cloverfield (that is, just because something works for five minutes, doesn't mean it'll work for 90). That, really, is it.

[ASIDE: Vanessa made a neat point as we drove back from our second viewing of the film. We were talking about the lens flares, and she mentioned that, many times, they worked in a transitional capacity, specifically citing when Kirk and McCoy were flying up to the Enterprise. The light washed over the screen - Kirk and McCoy were looking out the window at something we the audience could not see - and then, BOOM! Enterprise. An interesting transition, to be certain, and one that recalls the end of Undiscovered Country, when the Enterprise flies into the sun and disappears in a white light? END ASIDE]

Star Trek is/was phenomenal. From the first frame to the last, I was completely enraptured. The casting was far and away, above and beyond, anything I could've ever hoped for (and I remember back during the time people were saying Matt Damon was going to play Kirk, Adrien Brody would be Spock, and Gary Sinese was up for McCoy). These are characters I've known and loved since I was a small child, so the fact that I cannot find anything to bitch about speaks, to me, volumes. Karl Urban, awesome though he was in LOTR (one of the few pieces of those movies that still hold up, in my humble opinion), knocks it completely out of the park as Leonard McCoy. Who knew he was a gifted comedic actor? The scene where he's introduced is easily one of my favorites in the movie ("All I've got left are my bones"), and while he doesn't fall prey to the "impression" that I've read people chalk his performance down to, I think he captures the essence of McCoy. I'd heard people complain about Anton Yelchin's Chekov, but for my money, he nailed the fish-out-of-water, youthful exuberance that made Chekov such a great character on the show. John Cho, an actor I couldn't have cared less about, turned Sulu into the badass we all knew he was, just beneath the surface. Zoe Saldana, well, she was Uhura, and the same goes for the single actor I had no concerns about from the get-go: Simon Pegg's Montgomery Scott (pitch-perfect casting and performing - just the right level of Scotty exasperation the whole time). I've never watched Heroes (see here for why), so I knew nothing about Zachary Quinto, but I must admit that he rode the line that a young Spock needed to ride skillfully, almost perfectly (emotional control vs emotional release). You could see it behind his eyes, that he was always thinking in his scenes (a trait, in case you've not noticed, that I adore in actors). As long as we're on the subject of Spock, let me just say that Leonard Nimoy's still got it.

And, of course, there's Chris Pine, who famously modeled his Kirk not so much after Shatner, but after Harrison Ford's two best-known characters (Indy and Han Solo, naturally) and Tom Cruise's Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, from Top Gun. Again, sounds like a recipie for disaster, no? Somehow, though, they coalesce into something that's so perfectly Kirk that it's almost frightening. Cocky, aggressive, thoughtful, alert, charismatic... Everything that makes James Tiberius Kirk the man that women want, and that men want to be, is on display from Pine's swaggering into frame at the Iowa bar, to the moment he barks out his first official order as the duly designated captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Pine is, well, perfect, and not once does he stutter-step his syllables (he said he felt that'd be slipping into parody, and not only is he totally right, he also would've ruined the movie had he done that).

Eric Bana plays himself a great villain, certainly one of the most interesting a Star Trek film's seen in a good long time (he's really more a foil for Spock than Kirk, which is something I hope they'll address in the sequel). Bruce Greenwood [ASIDE: Here's my single moment of bitching, with regards to continuity. The movie says explicitly that Chris Pike was the first captain of the Enterprise. He wasn't, Robert April was. I understand why they took this route, using a character we actually know something about rather than one we don't, but they could've taken an opportunity to really grow a character the audience knew next to nothing about. Oh, well. Roads less taken and all that. END ASIDE] is a standout Chris Pike, a great father for the boy who, thanks to Nero, never had one. His, "I am relieved," from his wheelchair (!!!) is exemplary of a performer truly understanding his line, and selling it.

The production design, from the Apple store bridge of the Enterprise, to the dank and cavernous Romulan ship, to the IDIC chair/control console aboard Spock's ship, to the functional updating of the classic costumes, to the "flip" effect on the phasers as they switch from stun to kill, all of it grooves in the spirit of the original series. The design of the movie is optimistic, somehow, a future to which (for the first time in a good long time) we can actually look forward. It's bright and clean, and the way is led by men and women in bright, clean uniforms and ships.

One review of the film I did read (can't recall whose now, sadly) mentioned something very interesting, about how the camera's frenetic motion (which I rather liked, particularly once they got in space, as it set me, as a viewer, as askew as I imagine I might be in the weightless vacuum of space) slowed down once Simon Pegg arrived onscreen, as though Abrams no longer felt he had to compensate for his cast of [virtual] unknowns once his friend popped onscreen. Pegg is a gifted comic and a great performer, for certain, but I feel that sheds too negative a light on the rest of the cast. The movie slowed down on Delta Vega; there's no reason the camera shouldn't, too (besides, they weren't in space anymore).

Now, I've come across more than a couple of articles online (I've not read any, having been mostly away from the Internet this weekend, and not wanting to have any more of the movie spoiled than I'd already had) drawing explicit comparisons between Star Trek in the '60s and Star Trek today, how we're once again in the midst of a transformative time in national/world history, where the old paradigms (we can hope) no longer hold true, where we, at long last, get an opportunity to redefine ourselves, hopefully for the better. The original Star Trek (or TOS) put on display a time where humankind had put its differences aside, finally realizing there was more than united us than did the other thing, and pushed off into space alongside plenty of other people friendly to our cause of exploration, discovery, and camaraderie. A time when poverty, disease, war... all of it had been stripped away. A utopia among the stars, in short, was what Gene Roddenberry showed us (and that which was not utopian... well, we'd do our best to make it right, as long as we stuck to the cultural tenents enshrined in the Prime Directive). It gave us hope. J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot is similarly of its time, with a focus on the power of the team (equally appropriate to the origin-story-nature of the film - here's how the officers of the starship Enterprise came together for the very first time - and to the post-Obama campaign that proved, once and for all, that the young people of this country can accomplish what was once thought impossible. With some appropriate guidance, at times), of youth (or at least fresh thinking), and of proper, respectful, insightful use of the new (in this case, the freshly-minted Federation flagship), there's nothing that's out of our reach. A lesson worth appreciating, methinks. [ASIDE: there might well be way too much reading into this, seeing as how the movie was written long before the big political events took place. But, the fact that they were on the writers' minds at the time speaks, I think, to their potency. You can't just ignore these parallels, is what I'm trying to say. END ASIDE.

Speaking of youth, actually, that's one of the things that interested me most about the film. I've said before that my biggest complaint with the TNG cast films, particularly as opposed to the TOS cast's films, is their lack of an overarching theme. The films were all, to one degree or another, about aging, about finding a place in a world that was in the process of passing you by, about legacy. The TNG cast's movies had nothing like that (and might have if they'd had six movies to work with, but we'll never know. I doubt it, anyway. The writing was never as good). Abrams' Star Trek, though, is all about youth and potential, about taking an active hand in writing (or rewriting, depending on your level of bitterness) your story. Bruce Greenwood's line to Kirk, about settling for a less and ordinary life over reaching for something more, perfectly encapsulates this. Even Original Spock takes the opportunity that time-travel has afforded him to place his mark on what remains of his people in a very indelible way - he even selects the planet on which the new Vulcan colony will settle. I'm excited to see how they explore this in the future.

I've complained at length (not so much here, but in person... "Talking," if you will) about movies that take big chances, almost enviable ones, taking them back in the last few moments (Brett "I Can Have All The Endings I Want, Motherfuckers" Ratner's X-Men: The Last Stand killed Professor X, but brought him back, erased Magneto's mutant powers, but brought them back... Tropic Thunder took a huge chance with what it might've tried to say about race in entertainment, except that it decided it didn't want to say anything at the end). Star Trek, to its unending credit, doesn't do any such thing. When that black hole destroys Vulcan, it destroys it, taking with it Spock's mother, Amanda. When George Kirk is killed aboard the U.S.S. Kelvin, dooming his son Jim to a youth of juvenile delinquency (presumably, George was the only person that could've guided Jim onto the correct path early, but then we wouldn't have had what passed for Kirk's hero journey, would we?), he dies, ramming his ship into the belly of Nero's oversized Romulan mining/war ship. After all, the best method I know of for creating drama is raising the stakes, and Star Trek does this unerringly well (really, that's the Abrams stock in trade, but it works particularly nicely here).

The film's plot, while imperfect (head-scratchingly so, at times, and in serious retrospect), is frequently an afterthought, so caught up was I in the breathless rush from one great set-piece of action or character development to the next. The frequent tips of the hat the film makes to everything that has come before is mostly more than fan service (only once or twice did I feel the explicit quoting of past dialogue was ham-handed... When Original Spock says to Kirk, "I have been, and always shall be, your friend," it came at precisely the wrong time for me. If he'd used it to reassure Kirk that, yes, his plan to transport Kirk and Mr. Scott aboard the in-warp-space Enterprise was not intended to kill the young man, but to help him, well, that I could've gotten behind. Would've been a much cleaner, smoother use of the line), and serves to nicely punctuate scenes and exchanges (My favorite? Easily McCoy's, "I'm a doctor, not a physicist!"). Showing us, after decades of wondering, what Kirk's victory over the impossible test, the Kobayashi Maru, was a stroke of genius (and Pine's completely lackadaisical attitude towards the proceedings somewhat foreshadows the ease with which he assumes command).

Now that this film has come to its close, now that I've seen it twice, I feel the need to muse on what might come after, what I might try to contribute to the story. We've seen how the main characters came together to overcome the seemingly impossible, we've seen Kirk grow into himself (complete his hero journey, if you will), but there's one thing we haven't seen, and that's how the Big Three (Kirk/Spock/McCoy, not Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman) grew into their roles with each other. Kirk bounced off Spock and McCoy often enough, and McCoy and Spock had their moments, but the three men didn't have a moment like, say, in Star Trek II, in Kirk's quarters, where they learned about and discussed the ramifications of Carol Marcus' Genesis device (Spock logically detached, McCoy attacking the problem from his gut, and Kirk synthesizing the two men's approaches into one uniquely his). That's what I want to see from the next film; how the Big Three became precisely that. I think I know how to do it, too. But that's going to take some brainstorming.

It's a crime that the film is only going to be in the IMAX for two weeks, for that really and truly is the way to experience it (and preferably with a crowd that recognizes as many of the in-jokes as possible, and is receptive to Abrams' retooling). It's the sort of movie I'd consider in blu-ray, in fact.

The real question I'm left with, here at the end of my piece, is, where does Star Trek fall in my listing of the pantheon of Star Trek films? I'm inclined to place it either third or fourth, after Undiscovered Country and Wrath of Khan, for sure, but is it truly better than First Contact, a movie to which time has been less than kind, but was awesome in the years shortly after its release? The issue with placing it ahead of First Contact is that I would be summarily discounting every one of the TNG films, and by association, their cast. I don't know if I'm comfortable doing that.

06 May 2009

podcast?

I'm thinking of trying to do a weekly podcast. I seem to drift away from my mission statement of ranting about things in popular culture, and I think maybe half an hour of talking every week about aggregate... everythings, really, might be a way to salvage that part of the plan.

I'm figuring I just make up a list of things that caught my eye over the course of the week (movies, music, video games, comics, a photograph, whatever), research them a bit on Saturday, record on Sunday, and post on Monday.

The real ranting could begin that way. I could have guest ranters from time to time, too.

Might there be a reaction out there in ever-so-small-reader land?

04 May 2009

starbase: where no turtle has gone before

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (on the Super Nintendo) was something I spent a lot of time playing when I was younger. It probably got to the point where I could get through that first time-travel level (the one with the dinosaurs, where you had to fight Slash - the evil mutated snapping turtle, trained by Shredder to, well, shred the Turtles) without opening my eyes, so well did I know the patterns of the Foot-Clan-Soldiers-Riding-Dinosaurs and the falling (exploding?) stalactites. I miss the side-scrolling, beat-'em-up games pretty badly, truth be told (Final Fight 1-3, Double Dragon, Battletoads, The Simpsons arcade game... If you could run around with one or more of your friends and hit robots/ninjas/robot ninjas/Sideshow Bob, I was more than willing to play it); that's why I got so into Castle Crashers when it made its way to the XBox Live Arcade. Violent and funny is a perfect recipie for a video game, I've always thought.

So, upon hearing that an HD revamp/release of TMNT IV was imminent (well, it'll happen this year, anyway), I couldn't be anything but excited, right? Look here; the video quality is crummy, but it's still Leonardo (who still battles with Donatello daily for the #1 Turtle in my heart), on a pirate ship, with Foot Clan soldiers. He steps on the wrong plank and it hits him in the face! His foot catches on fire and he jumps around! Just like I remember! And it looks better than before... Maybe! I don't know!

The idea of playing this game with friends with whom I still speak is very compelling. Plus, I just have to know how the futuristic surfing level looks... I want to beat Krang senseless. I want to blow up Metalhead... I want my Super Nintendo back.

Please tell me I'm not in the "nostalgia" market already. There should be so much more awesome stuff ahead that I can leave the past in the past. Who the hell am I kidding? I'm going to buy this the second it comes out.

Oh, and if you've not seen this video, dear reader, take a moment. You will never regret it.

01 May 2009

tinted windows (or, this is what passes for a supergroup these days?)

I'm going to make a quick point, and then come back to it later: that which is easiest is not necessarily the most rewarding.

Moving on... A little over a year ago, I devoted some digital space and some words to Fountains of Wayne's latest album, Traffic & Weather (read it here. You know you want to). In that time, my affection for that album has waned somewhat, but that's been more than compensated for by a rebirth of my appreciation for Welcome Interstate Managers (which I might well place on a list of favorite albums of the '00s, but we'll wait and see on that).

Despite the fact that I devoted much of my college (and post-) life to discovering the most obscure, abrasive, inaccessible music I could get my hands on, I've retained a soft spot for the well-constructed pop song. I've written before about why, so I won't compose something dissertation-length today, but let me just restate what I think is my most important point: it doesn't waste time. A weird thing to say from a guy who's listened to more than a few all-instrumental heavy metal albums that fall in the 50-70 minute range, but as I regain that part of my personality that doesn't really care what other people think of the things I like, I realize how important, and how special, a song like "Maureen" (from the B-sides collection Out-Of-State Plates) is. Smart, touching, honest, fun to listen to, and it starts and finishes in three minutes and thirteen seconds. There's a lot to admire about something like that.

It was a little over a month ago when I first found out about Tinted Windows. I was flipping through the channels on Vanessa's DirecTV when I uncovered a direct feed from SXSW. Performances from weird and obscure (only not that obscure, since they're deemed significant enough to air on a weird DirecTV channel) bands at the Austin festival (one I've always wanted to go to). The Airborne Toxic Event? Hell yes. Tinted Windows? The new power pop "supergroup" featuring James Iha from the Smashing Pumpkins, Adam Schlesinger from Fountains of Wayne, Bun E. Carlos from Cheap Trick, and Taylor Hanson from... Hanson? What the fuck?

I had to record it. When I watched it, I had to admit, I wasn't all that taken with it. A lot of reviews of the record, and reactions to this and other live performances, talked about how the band seemed to lack, well, it. Iha (like D'Arcy), back in his Pumpkins days, was a charisma black hole, and nothing's changed, as near as I can tell. Schlesinger (despite the fact that most of the music and lyrics were his) seemed just as uninterested. Bun E. sure looked to be enjoying himself, but the performer's enjoyment doesn't translate to the audience as well as that of the crowd to the band (I believe). Taylor was trying hard, and clearly having a good time too, but he just didn't ever have an opportunity to get the audience off (as Jeff Bebe might've said), so relentlessly plowing ahead was the band's set.

Before I get into my reaction to the album (much more positive than the one I had to the live broadcast), I want to take a moment to talk about the term "supergroup." Only in this age and day, when every marketplace for creativity (whatever your favorite sort is) is so splintered that it's virtually impossible for a random sampling of people to have experienced anything that could unite them (save, perhaps, the Obama election), only in this age and day could James Iha, Adam Schlesinger, Taylor Hanson and Bun E. Carlos constitute a "supergroup." Oysterhead (Les Claypool, Stuart Copeland, and Trey Anastasio) were more a "supergroup" than Tinted Windows, and even that's pushing it. Cream is a supergroup, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young are a supergroup, the Traveling Wilburys were a supergroup. People didn't refer to Tom Petty as "that guy from the Heartbreakers;" in talking about Tinted Windows with anybody, I've referred to Mr. Schlesinger as "the bass player from Fountains of Wayne. He writes their songs... Yeah, the 'Stacy's Mom' guys." That's not to knock these guys, who've achieved far more in their lives than I have in mine... I'm just saying that it's overly generous to refer to them as a "supergroup."

Now, to the music (I should really kick this "prefacing, story-telling" thing to the curb in my reaction/response posts - it just makes them overlong and probably doesn't provide any useful information, but you never know. We'll see if I can junk the habit). On the first listen, it seemed... overly generic (a fault I lay at the aforementioned Mr. Schlesinger's feet, seeing as how he's responsible for the lion's share of the song-writing). Only two songs really stood out to me, "Without Love" and "Take Me Back." It certainly wasn't a Welcome Interstate Managers-type listening experience, where it seemed like each and every song smacked me with its own kind of awesomeness. I was prepared to be as disappointed and bitter as the guy who reviewed the album on Pitchfork (the website gave it a review score of 3.5 out of 10).

The songs are overly generic (though that's apparently by design - Schlesinger did't want the band to sound like an off-brand Fountains of Wayne, so he had to alter his writing style... not that going from insightful and witty to generic is something to condone), but they're earnest (Taylor Hanson deserves all the credit in the world for pulling that off; clearly, the most talented Hanson brother has decided to make the most of his opportunity to grab the spotlight)

Something started to happen, though. Something I hadn't quite expected. The songs... well, they wormed their way into my brain. Even songs I didn't think I'd liked at all, like "Dead Serious," or "Nothing to Me." I'd feel them reverberating in my brain, digging their claws in and refusing to let go. Only snippets, though, not full songs. Phrases got stuck in my head, to the point that I had no choice but to cue the album up again and go through it, start to finish.

I think the advent of the iPod (and digital music in general) has lessened people's appreciation for the art of ordering songs on a record. With something like American Idiot, it's pretty essential (the importance of the story unfolding in the correct order can't really be overstated), but with something like the Tinted Windows album, it's a bit more subtle. It's not about narrative so much as it's about feeling. In this case, it's like following Rob Gordon's rules for mix-tape making (ones I'd inadvertently adopted myself long, long before I know about Nick Hornby, let alone John Cusack).

Turns out, my biggest issue with Tinted Windows is its lackluster track arrangement. "Kind of a Girl" to "Messing With My Head" to "Dead Serious" is not really a great opening 1-2-3 punch (something every good album needs... actually, a 1-2-3-4 is pretty key). "Kind of a Girl" isn't much of an album opener, frankly. The last track, "Take Me Back," is an album opener. "Messing With My Head" is a pretty good 2, but it suffers because the 1 track isn't grabby enough. It doesn't give you any reason to put a little more effort into the second song; you haven't been pulled in. "Dead Serious" is absolutely not a 3 track, either (doesn't let you absorb the first two songs or overwhelm you enough to blow them out of the water. It's just kind of there). "Can't Get a Read On You" is a good 4; it brings the energy back. But, from where? "Dead Serious" didn't do anything to require "Can't Get a Read On You" to exist where it does.

Track order is like a batting order; arrange your players, or your tracks, in a way that maximizes their potential individually and collectively. I've taken it upon myself to reorganize the tracks on Tinted Windows to allow them to maximize themselves. Here goes:

1) Take Me Back (way too catchy and, well, awesome to have to wait the whole album to hear it. This is a power pop record, for god's sake)
2) Messing With My Head (like I said, a good 2 if it had a good enough 1. Now it does)
3) Back With You (slows things down a little bit, lets Taylor's vocals really take center stage. Not really a power hitter of a song, but you can't always hit home runs. Sometimes you need to pack the bases)
4) Can't Get a Read On You ("Back With You" slows things down, so we pick it up here)
5) Dead Serious (keeps the energy going right into...)
6) Cha Cha (feels like more of a classic pop song; head bobbing-ly so)
7) Kind of a Girl (bring the heavy hitter in here; take things up yet another notch from where they were)
8) Without Love (probably my favorite riff in the whole album, which is a great way to follow up "Kind of a Girl," which just sort of STOPS)
9) We Got Something (rocking)
10) Nothing to Me (the second half of the record is kind of shaping into the "cool" half, which is good, I think. Good to have similar feelings on each side)
11) Doncha Wanna (instead of loading the record's best song at the end, we've now got the song that reminds me of one of the best album closing songs ever - "All Mixed Up," off The Cars' first album. I really don't know why it reminds me of that; there's not a good reason. But, there it is. It also builds/explodes/fades out better than any other song on the record, and that's how you end an album, I think)

I've given Tinted Windows a markedly better record, I believe. Someone want to get ahold of them and let them know?

It's weird, that I had to work to like a pop album. But, I do now. And I'm glad. Happy, even.