Monday, August 25, 2008

Meet American Idol's new judge

Big changes afoot in "American Idol" following the departure of dapper dancer -- and AI producer -- Nigel Lythgoe. Following last season's rating's slippage, the remaining producers of "American Idol" seem all-too-aware that Randy has uttered, "yo, dawg, check it out" one time too many, and that Simon seems worn out by Paula's Pollyanna-ish compliments.

Now, the producers have announced that Kara DioGuardi --songwriter for hire for the likes of Celine Dion, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Avril Lavigne, Faith Hill, The Jonas Brothers, and Christina Aguilera, to name but a few -- will join the panel of judges. The addition of DioGuardi, who is the 00's answer to Diane Warren, is an inspired choice as you'll see from this profile interview that I commissioned last year.

It's a great first step to reform the "American Idol" format. And it's a relief that DioGuardi's discography doesn't include any songs for Sanjaya....

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Whole Lotta Olympics

What an Olympics it's been. Michael Phelps can give up swimming now that he walks on water in the eyes of the world. For me, the most amazing spectacle -- other than the opening ceremony -- was watching Usian "lightning" Bolt, the giant Jamaican sprinter with grasshopper legs, casually stride to a world record 100 meters without even running at his full capacity. Memo to Hollywood casting directors: Outfit this guy in a red superhero suit for a movie version of The Flash and you won't need to spend a dime on special effects.

Great to see Jimmy Page riffing "Whole Lotta Love" during the closing ceremonies in a duet with Leona Lewis. A surprise collaboration, you say? Well, not so much when you consider that the riffmeister has hooked up with Puff Daddy (as he was known back then) and David Coverdale.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Few things in life are free, except new songs

It's the new music-business model -- call it a half-Radiohead -- give away the first single from your new album as a taste of what to expect. For Coldplay and now Keane (see below), free MP3s have been chosen to make a statement, namely, "our new stuff is adventurous rather than the same 'ole, same 'ole."

Herewith, pointers to a few fresh freebies out there.

The brand new single by Marillion, one of my fave bands, is so catchy that you'll need a lobotomy to dislodge it from your head. Visit this site to download "Whatever is Wrong With You" (download is at the bottom right-hand side of the page -- no information or email address needed). It's the lead-off single from October's double album, "Happiness is the Road."

Visit for a free download of "Death Will Never Conquer," a jaunty acoustic ditty sung by drummer Will Champion, doing his best Chris Martin impression. The song has been a staple of the band's acoustic set on tour.

Richard Barbieri
Porcupine Tree keyboard player Richard Barbieri has a new solo album, "Stranger Inside," coming out Sept. 30. The musician, a former cohort of bassist Mick Karn and David Sylvian in the new wave art-rock band Japan, is making an excellent 8-minute track titled "Hypnotek" available to those who sign up to receive more information here. Richard's previous solo album, "Things Buried," is an electronica album that feels more organic than synthetic and it'll take you places you don't normally visit with a pair of headphones.

The British trio, renowned for their clean-lines of piano pop. take a left swerve on "Spiralling." Available for free until 11 a.m. on Monday August 11 at, this first single off "Perfect Symmetry" is a shot across every music critic's bow.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The dogged days of August

It's been a little quiet on the blog front of late, I'm afraid. The main culprit: A move from Boston to Los Angeles next week and hectic deadlines at work. But here's a roundup of what I've been reading, watching, and listening to over the past month.

WATCHING: Last night's opening ceremonies at the Olympics qualify as the 8th wonder of the world. I've never seen anything like it. Thousands of performers in seemingly computer-synchronized choreography of algorithmic complexity. If this was China's attempt to intimidate visiting athletes -- a sort of rugby Haka writ large -- it more than succeeded. If you missed it, YouTube it.

TV-wise, it's Psych and reality shows such as So, You Think You Can Dance? which, in many ways, is far superior to "American Idol" because the judges are more articulate -- when Mary Murphy isn't screaming like Robert Plant on helium, that is. And seasoned British host Cat Deeley is the best emcee on television. Movie-wise, I was apparently one of the 10 people in North America that saw The X-Files: I Want My Money Back. Fact: More people have seen "Space Chimps" than the second -- and, I reckon, last -- Mulder and Scully film. It's one of the most dismal big-screen experiences ever. Unforgivably dull and not in the least cinematic, the film barely included anything supernatural, and the performances weren't super natural, either. The Dark Knight, however, exceeded all my expectations.

READING: Haven't had as much reading time as I'd have liked and my bookshelf is now fully packed, but I am half way through David Wroblewski's The Story of David Sawtelle, perhaps the most acclaimed debut novel of 2008. It's Dickensian in length and its gold-bar size doesn't exactly qualify it as beach reading. But its "Hamlet" inspired tale of a mute boy and his canine companion is perfect for the dog days of August. But it's utterly compelling and beautifully written.

Next up for me is a galley copy of When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson, one of my very favorite authors.

LISTENING TO: Lots of Radiohead at the moment as Kim and I will be seeing them Wednesday night, which will be a great send off before we jet to Los Angeles the following day.

Last week we saw The Police again and it was a fine farewell gig, albeit a little too short and, unforgivably, no "Synchronicity II" this time around! I had hoped that the trio would record new material because Sting's solo songs are smothered in smooth sounds. (How's that for alliteration, eh?) I'd love for him to pare down his material for a leaner discipline on his next album. And, no, I don't mean making another record of lute music.

We just saw Coldplay for the fifth time and, if Chris Martin's falsetto seemed as fragile as his artistic temperament, he more than made up for it with boundless enthusiasm. The outstanding light show by designer Paul Normandale, increasingly the go-to-guy for cutting-edge stage presentations, centered around massive Christmas-tree light bulbs that were suspended above the crowd and projected images or refracted them like gigantic marbles. The band included some other nice touches: Dashing down the side aisle to the nosebleed section to play a couple of acoustic tracks. As populist touches go, it was most welcome for those of us in the cheap seats.

Earlier in July, I enjoyed club dates by Joseph Arthur, one of my very favorite songwriters, and Shearwater, my favorite discovery of 2008.

Album-wise, I've been loving "Absent Lovers," a 1980s live album by King Crimson. The setlist corrals the band's finest songs, I think, and the lineup of Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Bill Bruford, and Tony Levin is perhaps only surpassed by the current touring lineup which sees Pat Mastelotto and Porcupine Tree drum god Gavin Harrison taking over the backstage stools for a double-drum formation.

Also on frequent rotation: The Best of The Beta Band. (It's not pronounced Beta as in VHS, but "bee-tah." Must be a Scottish thing.) Until now, I only owned their final album, the tremendous "Heroes to Zeros," but this compilation reveals how good their earlier material was, too. Their unusual amalgamation of sounds and psychedelia is reminiscent in feel of Love. I have to thank my friend Simon for that one, as well as supplying me with albums by The Cure, Ulrich Schnauss, Field Music, and The Editors. What a heaven-send during all the packing. Speaking of which, I really must return to taping up some more boxes...