Tuesday, October 28, 2008

AC/DC - Black Ice

I agreed with the Internet prognosticators when they said the new AC/DC album, Black Ice, would suck (and thereby result in disappointing, lack-luster sales). All the evidence seemed to substantiate their predictions.

Exhibit A. It has been eight long years since AC/DC released a studio album. Three years or more between albums is an omen. After eight years between recordings, they affectionately call you Boston. “Strike while the iron’s hot,” they say. Uh... Well... after eight years, how hot can the iron be? At this point, you have to ask yourself, "Does anyone care anymore?"

Exhibit B. A band entrenched in a studio environment month after month is not “throwing it down”. Their creative process tends to stagnate rather than flourish. Their focus shifts from spontaneity to perfection. Ultimately, it’s the music that suffers. It becomes a victim of revision and refinement. Under these conditions, the music tends to sterilize. It loses its life, its energy and its edge – the key ingredients of good music, regardless of genre.

Exhibit C. In 2005, rumors began to circulate that the new AC/DC album would be a double-disc affair (slaps forehead). Even in the world of rock ‘n’ roll excess, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. The general rule is this: a solid double album, if condensed properly, yields a monster single album.

On whether there was any truth to the report, AC/DC lead singer Brian Johnson later clarified:

I said the other day to somebody, I said, 'Jesus, we've written enough songs, it could be a box set.' And Columbia Records got on the phone and said, 'Don't ever say that. Don't ever say that again.' [Laughs] 'These people will be expecting one.' I said, 'I was kidding.' I think it's basically the fact that the guys wanted as much down as possible just so we could pick some gems out. And the great thing is, there'll be a load of songs left over for something in the future – you never know.

If it pleases the court, the people request that Exhibit C be withdrawn from the record. Thank you.

Exhibit D. It was announced that AC/DC’s Black Ice would be a Wal-Mart exclusive. Loosely translated in English, "Wal-Mart will sell the product because no other retailer will touch it... cuz it sucks!"

Exhibit E. A week before its official release (Monday, October 20, 2008), Columbia Records reported that AC/DC’s Black Ice was illegally downloaded in excess of 400,000 times. With numbers like these, who’s left to buy the album?

Now that the week has passed, I admit it. I was wrong – way wrong. The new AC/DC album Black Ice is the best thing since 1983’s Flick of the Switch. MrMudPuppy gives it two enthusiastic flippers straight up. As for sales concerns, I have statistics - statistics of epic proportions.

Exhibit A. Released globally on Monday October 20, 2008, AC/DC's first new studio album in eight years, Black Ice tops sales charts in 29 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, France, Argentina, Japan, Australia, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.

Exhibit B. In the United States, Black Ice has sold more than 780,000 units its first week of sale, marking the band's first ever debut entry at No. 1 on the album charts.

Exhibit C. Over 5 million copies of Black Ice have been shipped worldwide, combined with close to 5 million in back-catalog sold this year, the band is poised to sell over 10 million albums during 2008.

Exhibit D. The anticipation of a new AC/DC album and tour has ignited back-catalog sales. In the past eight weeks, AC/DC's back-catalog sales have exceeded 800,000 albums worldwide.

Exhibit E. "Rock 'N' Roll Train", the first single from Black Ice, has topped U.S. rock radio charts since its release in early September. What's more? Sirius-XM Radio is also celebrating this exciting new chapter in the band's history by creating "AC/DC Radio", a 24-hour station devoted to playing the band's classic rock songs and exclusive interviews with the band. "AC/DC Radio" will broadcast until January 15, 2009.

Closing Arguments by Angus Young...
Angus Young (circa 1995): I'm sick to death of people saying we've made 11 albums that sound exactly the same, In fact, we've made 12 albums that sound exactly the same.

That's right. When purchasing an AC/DC album, you know exactly what you're gonna get - straight-ahead, blues-based hard rock courtesy of a band that doesn't take itself too seriously. Hallelujah! Great job lads. I never doubted you for a moment.

The first leg of the Black Ice World Tour kicked off tonight (October 28, 2008) in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The tour will run through April 23, 2009, ending in Birmingham, United Kingdom.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Classical Music 101

"Welcome to the Jungle, Baby…" - W. Axl Rose
The average music consumer is both prudent and judicious when it comes to buying a new CD. Few risk the unknown. For many, classical music is just that – the unknown. Venturing into the vast universe of classical music is intimidating enough, but making a confident, first-time purchase is next to impossible. It’s a jungle out there, and I’ve bore witness to the progression on countless occasions.

Unaware of what’s about to unfold, a confident consumer saunters into the classical music section of Borders armed with a torn slip of canary yellow paper – containing her scribbles for success – and a home-printed 25% off coupon. An air of excitement builds because someone is clearly on a mission. Perusing the available selection, our would-be customer narrows in on her primary target – a placard reading, A. Vivaldi.

This Ain't Your Frankie Valli's Four Seasons
Confident fingers flip through the inventory. The very first copy of (you guessed it) Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is culled from the racks. With a false sense of accomplishment, a trap of deception is set. As if on cue, reading glasses emerge. A careful side-by-side comparison of the yellow slip of paper against the disc’s back tray card is made.

Match not found.

Self confidence begins to waiver. A subtle wave of emotion induces the customer’s eyes to uncontrollably peer over her now lowered reading glasses. To her amazement, the CD bin presents the perplexed consumer with yet another copy of Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. She's completely oblivious to the fact that 1,200+ recorded versions of this 18th century classic exist. Confusion sets in.

At this moment, I can’t bear to watch, but like any good train wreck, I simply can’t resist.

With the 25% off coupon now tightly between her lips and the yellow crib sheet trampled underfoot on the latte-stained carpet, our victim appears to be fending off a frenzied attack by five different species of Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Completely overwhelmed, backup is called. Unfortunately, the emo-loving Borders music specialist is also “classically challenged”, but somehow he manages to pry the clenched copies of Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons from her fingers.

After moments of awkward conversation, lacking all-important nouns and verbs, the Borders employee flicks his unkempt jet-black hair away from his right eye, returns the copies of Vivaldi’s masterstroke to their appropriate place, and retakes his abandoned post at the Information Desk.

Stunned and bewildered, our once-confident consumer takes one last covert glance of Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons from a safe distance. As many before her, she leaves Borders denied.

Could I have saved our customer from herself? Perhaps. But my mission is to observe, not intervene. Seriously people, would you take classical music advice from a scowling, long-haired, Motörhead t-shirt wearing mud puppy like me? I sincerely doubt it.

Classical Music for Dummies (by a Scowling, Long-Haired, Motörhead T-Shirt Wearing Mud Puppy)
Hélène Grimaud is my all-time favorite classical pianist. Something about her playing (good or bad) resonates with me. I’ve followed her recording career closely since late 1987, when I first purchased her studio performance of Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23. Hélène Grimaud was an emerging teenage prodigy back in those days, and her playing has matured/developed wonderfully since.

Her latest CD release, on the Deutsche Grammophon imprint, is simply entitled, Bach. This, her first all-Bach recording, not only contains compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), but Bach transcriptions as well.

Some time between the years 1717 and 1723 (the exact date is uncertain), Johann Sebastian Bach composed the Partita for Violin Solo No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004. During the 16th and 17th centuries, a partita was the name given to a single instrumental piece of music, but Johann Sebastian Bach used it for collections of musical pieces; essentially, he used “partita” as a synonym for “suite”.

The Partita for Violin Solo No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004 contains five movements. The fifth and final movement of the partita is known as the chaconne. A chaconne is a variation on a repeated short harmonic progression.

Italian composer Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) later transcribed the last movement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s partita from violin to piano. This legendary piece is known as Chaconne in D minor.

And you thought cover tunes and remixes were a late 20th century concept.

MrMudPuppy’s Metal Mud Puddle Challenge
The embedded video below is an excerpt from the Chaconne in D minor as performed by Hélène Grimaud. Give me three minutes and thirty-nine seconds of your life, and I'll share with you a prime example of classical music that stirs me at the deepest level.

Herein lies MrMudPuppy’s Metal Mud Puddle Challenge: When viewing/listening to the Chaconne in D minor, tell me what you think Johann Sebastian Bach was attempting to say through this glorious piece of music. What images appear in your mind’s eye? What feelings, emotions, and moods does it evoke in you? Go with your instincts, and let me know!
Post script: Hélène Grimaud is blessed/cursed with synesthesia; she not only hears the musical notes she plays, but sees them in vivid colors as well. Could you detect that in her performance?

Closing Words by Hélène Grimaud
Did Johann Sebastian Bach successfully convey his message to you? The following are Hélène Grimaud's perspectives and insights regarding the Chaconne in D minor:

Hélène Grimaud: The Chaconne started out as a focal point of this programme; it absolutely had to be there. It's a dance of life and death. We know Bach composed it at the time of the passing of his first wife, and though no composer's music is less crudely reflective of his personal life, it's still important to know what he was going through at any given time. This is the mightiest single movement he ever wrote; it's like the architecture of a cathedral, with each variation resembling light seen through a different stained-glass window. And playing it, you feel you're dancing with your own shadow. Its ending is another mystery; rather than closing things down, it opens the player up to every possible direction.