Friday, October 29, 2010

Throwback Friday/Weekend Extra 10-29-10 Madonna in the 90s

Looking back, it's hard to tell if "Justify My Love" was the end of an era for Madonna or the beginning of a new one. Or as the French say, a liaison between the two. The stark, coldly funky collaboration with Lenny Kravitz, then a a rising newcomer, sounded nothing like she'd ever done before and was an odd, incongruous choice for inclusion as the token new single on her first greatest hits package, The Immaculate Collection.Indeed, the prior year's Blond Ambition Tour, felt like the culmination of her 80s personas, weaving together all of her biggest hits into a stunning package the likes of which had never before been seen, climaxing in her sleek, modern dance smash "Vogue."
With "Justify My Love," Madonna, no stranger to controversy, found herself once more caught up in a whirlwind after her sexually explicit video in which one model's breasts are exposed and Madonna herself kisses another woman, while male love interest (and real-life boyfriend) Tony Ward looks on.

But from a purely musical standpoint, Madonna CLEARLY turns a corner with this song, leaving behind the bouncy pop of past hits for a colder, more electronic sound, bridging her earlier club sounds with that of her followup album, Erotica.
The lead single, "Erotica" carries over the cold, mid-tempo electronic thump of "Justify" and even delves deeper into sexuality with its S&M-inspired lyrics.

The release of the Erotica single and album coincided with the release of Sex, a metal-covered book of... well, erotica, featuring Madonna herself in states of undress, indulging in her sundry sexual fantasies, which... shudder, include frolicking with one-time fling Vanilla Ice as well as rapper Big Daddy Kane and Naomi Campbell. Also, Madonna was promoting an upcoming film, a sexual thriller along the lines of Basic Instinct called Body of Evidence, which also dealt with overt sexual themes.
Both the album and single hit #1, but the public was wearying of this sexual barrage and Madonna, always a lightning rod for controversy, found herself losing casual fans in droves. Of course, the sheer experimental nature of her new music may have also been off-putting to many.
Her second single from Erotica, "Deeper and Deeper" was the lightest, frothiest song from that album and was in many ways a throwback to dance floor classics like "Express Yourself" and "Vogue, " from which she even reprises the lyrics, "Ooooooh, you got to just, let your body move to the music. Ooooooh, you've got to just, let your body go with the flow."

The song and its 70s-Warhol inspire video were successful enough, reaching #7 on the US charts.
She was less successful with her next single, "Bad Girl." Despite its earnest lyrics and a gorgeously shot video directed by David Fincher, who'd previously helmed her landmark videos "Express Yourself," "Vogue" and "Oh Father," the public was wearying of her bad girl persona. It didn't help that the single's release corresponded with the release of Body of Evidence and even featured her costar from the film Willem Defoe. The film was poorly received and possibly as a result, "Bad Girl sank with a thud. Excellent video, though!

Perhaps in an effort to hedge her bets and to retain her club following, Madonna included her electronic cover of "Fever" as the b-side to "Bad Girl" and released a "Bad Girl/Fever" 12-inch featuring club remixes of "Fever." Even though the song was a b-side, Madonna released a stunning video for it.

At least that part of it worked. The US single barely cracked the Top 40, but managed to hit #1 on the club charts.
Despite the lack of performance on the mainstream charts, Madonna launched The Girlie Show Tour and sold out shows the world over. Interestingly, she bounced back with her fourth single from Erotica, the warm, "innocent" ballad "Rain."

Another stunningly gorgeous video from this era, Madonna looks gorgeous in it with her blunt, black bob. The song became a high-point in her Girlie Show. The song wasn't a smash, but did receive probably more airplay than any of the other singles from Erotica. The warmer tone of "Rain" foretold of what was to come for her.

Looking back at "Justify My Love" and Erotica with a modern eye (or ear rather), Madonna proved truly innovative as these projects predated the rise in 90s techno/electronic music. The influence of these works can definitely be heard in later tracks like Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" and tracks by artists like Prodigy, Tricky and even Bjork herself! Many argue that Madonna frequently "steals" from these underground sounds, which already exist, but without her bringing them to mainstream audiences first, those same audiences would not have been as likely to embrace these more edgy artists. (So NYAH!)
Bedtime Stories is widely considered her "R&B album" which it had the sole distinction of being until 2008's Hard Candy. Fans knew they were in for something vastly different, when Madonna released her lead single "Secret."

The track opens with the strumming of an acoustic guitar and picks up a smooth, mid-tempo beat. But it was nothing like her stark, cold Erotica sound or her earlier pop/dance style.
It did however, fit well with the rise in mid-tempo R&B that came from the fall of early 90s dance pop, and the popularity of Dr. Dre's smooth West Coast hip hop. The song hit #3 on the charts.
Her club fans however were appeased with the release of Junior Vasquez's club remixes of the song.

In times past, "club remixes" were generally simply longer versions of the normal version of the song. Junior's remixes of "Secret" were among the earliest of the modern definition of the "club mix," a complete overhaul that bore almost no resemblance to the original! The remix hit #1 on the Club Charts.
Perhaps surprisingly, Madonna's next single, the slightly Asian-tinged, Babyface-produced ballad "Take A Bow" became a MONSTER hit, not only staying at #1 on the Pop Chart for seven weeks, but also becoming a smash hit on the R&B charts! (Babyface's production and background vocals certainly helped there!)

The stunning video caused some controversy when some argued that it glorified bullfighting, which many animal activists considered barbaric. Madonna actually adopted the bull from the video and sent it to live out the rest of its life in peace on a ranch in Spain.
Madonna struggled after that, however. "Bedtime Story" was something of a throwback to Erotica and was, in many ways, a "sore thumb" on the otherwise more organic album. The song was written by Bjork, however, rumors abound that Bjork intentionally wrote bad lyrics in order to make fun of Madonna's songwriting.
Madonna crafted a VERY elaborate, abstract video that suited the song.

The video remains to this day one of her most visually stunning, however the single struggled, making it to #1 on the Club Charts (once again, featuring club remixes by Junior Vasquez among others) but only to #27 on the Pop Chart.
Many believed the warmer, organic approach to the Bedtime Stories album was Madonna's reaction to critics who took her to task over the sexuality and coldness of Erotica. In a bold move, Madonna actually addressed her critics in the definitely West Coast R&B flavored "Human Nature."

The song was the poorest performing of the Bedtime Stories singles, but is fondly remembered by fans and she performed it on her most recent tour, Sticky & Sweet, in this case, collaborating with Britney Spears, who appears via video screen on the track.
Once again, this may have been a reaction to critics who blasted her for her "sacrilegious" performance of "Live To Tell" on her prior Confessions Tour.
Madonna took several years off from music after Bedtime Stories. She had hoped to tour for the album, but won the lead in the film Evita for which she won a Golden Globe for Best Actress. During the filming of the movie, she became pregnant with her first child. So after a several year hiatus, during which she embraced the religion Kabala, she returned with an Eastern religious/metaphysical-inspired album Ray of Light.
She returned to the electronic sounds of Erotica, with a stark electronic ballad "Frozen."

And got everyone back up on the dance floor with the frenetic "Ray of Light."

I will admit, I wasn't much of a fan of this album at the time. My general reaction was, "What the fuck is she singing ABOUT?!" It was all a bit too abstract (i.e. pretentious) for me.

It didn't help that after the release of her next album Music (in 2000, so I won't be discussing it here), she announced her first tour since The Girlie Show, but that she wouldn't be performing anything pre-Bedtime Stories. (She later amended the set list to include "Holiday" and an acoustic version of "La Isla Bonita.") Once again: pretentious.

It wasn't until years later that I came to appreciate this portion of her career more. In particular, the song "Drowned World/Substitute For Love" which was the third single from Ray of Light but failed to chart in the US.
I can see why. It's not the most accessible song, but I really connect with the lyrics. Sometimes we do things in our lives out of selfishness but that are harmful to others. Sometimes we blow through life, like a tornado, taking what WE want, damaging everything in our paths. This song felt like a lament on such behavior, which sadly I relate to, possibly too much.

This song, plus a song from American Life, "Nobody Knows Me" are my "rebirth" anthems. I came to connect with them both at a point when I decided to consciously MAKE myself a better person.

The non-single opener of Bedtime Stories, "Survival" also falls under this category.

It's not for me to say whether I've been successful. Obviously, I've failed on many occasions, but... I mean, I try. So yeah...

Anyway, that's my look back on a somewhat undervalued period of Madonna's career. I know that I myself didn't even fully appreciate it at the time, but there are numerous tracks I came to really enjoy years after they'd been out but that are now among my favorites by her. Sometimes you need distance to appreciate something and I think that was the case here. So yeah, hope you enjoyed!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wonder Wednesday 10-27-10 Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends

I might be Halloweened out. I think it was the on-two punch of last night's Rocky Horror Glee Show and the Halloween-themed Raising Hope right after it. But when I went to bed, I'd slip into unconsciousness, start dreaming for SECONDS and then something would jolt me back awake, either something would fall loudly or I'd just hear a loud noise, stumble or whatever, but this went on for like three hours, during which time I got about 2 minutes of actual sleep. All I wanted was a good night's sleep... why is that so hard to give me, subconscious?! If you were a real person, I and my aluminum bat would have a few words for you today! But on with the show... today literally!
This was the first episode of Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends which I've blogged about before. It features the team battling Green Goblin, who in this universe is an actual Jekyll/Hyde creature who morphs from human Norman Osbourne into the Goblin, whereas in the comics, it was just some guy in a rubber mask or the movie where he was in that silly suit of armor.

This is one of the LAST shows I want on DVD, but as yet, inexplicably, it isn't available and there are no rights issues I'm aware of. Anyway, this episode is cool because in it, the gang, Peter Parker and his two roommates, Bobby Drake (Iceman) and Angelica Jones (Fire-Star) attend a "Comic Book Costume Party" at their college. HOT DAMN! I want to go to a Comic Book Costume Party SO BAD!!! Maybe that's my next-year's birthday party theme. But it seems I can never get anyone to go along with a theme party. Boo. Lame.

So anyway, the gang get all gussied up... Peter dresses in a store-bought Spider-Man costume (WINK!) complete with a plastic mask with a rubber band. Bobby goes as his idol, Captain America (who factors into two later episodes). Angelica dresses as Spider-Woman (As a "private joke" with Peter, WINK!) and Bobby's date Mona Osbourne (made-up niece of the Green Goblin) goes as fairly obscure heroine Medusa. But the geeky fun really kicks in when they arrive at the party and mingle with revelers dressed as Hellcat, Ka-Zar, The Hulk, Black Widow, Ms. Marvel, The Wasp, Yellowjacket, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Phoenix, Black Panther, Luke Cage (Power Man), Valkyrie, The Thing, The Falcon, Dr. Strange, Clea (miscolored), Iron Man, Daredevil, huff huff... Oh! And two Green Goblins... flying on wires!!! As if!

I like how Spider-Man then comments, "Something is turning my Spider Sense on." Why does that line never work when I say it? People just seem to scatter.

And what is that ONE dance they all seem to be doing! It's like "Tug the rope with both hands to the right! Now to the left! Now repeat!" I also love that when Angelica says, "Something's fishy!" and Bobby responds with his Steve Martin impression, "Well, excuuuuuse me!"

So then, apparently, Bobby is a dipshit and stands idly by as the GG kidnaps Mona! A point made even clearer when Spider-Man comments, "And he thought of that alllll by himself!" Creepy! At some point Norman strips off Mona's Medusa costume and redresses her in street clothes (including a negligee like top)! Ick! Also, love that the GG's hideout is some dilapidated hole-in-the-wall... with a super high-tech security/computer system.

The "Future Finder?" WTF is that?! I know these episodes were hacked to shit when they went into syndication, so I'm sure that factored in at some point. Now it's a non sequitur that makes no sense. They also cut out a scene of a girl dressed like Shana the She-Devil hitting on Peter at the party, to which Angelica responds by using her heat powers to create humidity to ruin the girl's hair and makeup! Don't step to Fire-Star, BITCH! Once again in a scene that no longer makes sense, Angelica spots the girl while dancing with Bobby and realizes something's amiss. However, without the earlier scene, it doesn't make sense.

And then four concrete walls and a ceiling appear out of NO WHERE! In some building that is surely condemned! I love Peter's distressed, "Heeeey!" when the wall he sticks to gets hot!

When Ice Man pops up, I realized, "hey, where the hell were they? Why did Spider-Man go after Gobs alone?" Then I love that right before they go into action they sound their battle cry, "Spider-Friends... go for it!" and pose!

And Fire-Stars utter fabulousity is in full effect as she removes the formula from the reservoir! Although, I don't think letting it run into the sewers is the best idea! Now New York is going to be overrun by Green Goblin rats! Ever think of that, Spider Friends?!"

Good times!

The End!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tune-In Tuesday 10-26-10 The Best Halloween Song You've Never Heard

This song was on the soundtrack to the first Scooby-Doo movie, which I loved by the way. I did not like the second, even though they incorporated the monsters from the TV show. It was just kind of a mess. Also on the CD is an exclusive Kylie Minogue song, but it's obviously just a left-over track that didn't make it onto her Fever album. It doesn't have anything to do with the movie or ghosts or anything. I don't even remember if it was actually IN the movie! This one makes a fleeting appearance, I THINK during a chase scene. It's called "Bump In The Night" by Allstars.

So put that on your Halloween playlist!

Monday, October 25, 2010

MANic Monday 10-26-10 Top Ten Men In Tights

This is a topic I have covered before, in great depth, but in keeping with the whole Halloween/costume thing, I thought I'd do a listing of my Top Ten Hottest Men In Tights, or the Top Ten Hottest Live Action Super Heroes Ever! Okay it would have been more logical to do like hottest guys in horror movies or hottest monsters, but sue me, I don't swing that way.

First, a couple of Honorable Mentions. These are guys from when I was REALLY young. Looking at them now, they look supa cheesy, but at the time, they were doing something right!

First, Burt Ward as Robin from the 60s Batman.
I mean, I was like a year old and I thought he was cute, so that's how gay I've always been. It's kinda strange I would gravitate toward him, though, since he's clearly "the bottom."

Next, Sam Jones as Flash Gordon.

And very closely related, Reb Brown as Captain America.
They made these two made-for-TV Captain America movies and man they were turds! But I recall, about 15 years ago, watching them on VHS, there was a scene were tan, blond, muscular Steve Rogers at the beach in a pair of short shorts (that's how men wore them then, not knee-length board shorts) and an unzipped hoodie with no shirt. Nice! I mean he had an amazing body, but his costume certainly didn't showcase that!

Nicholas Hammond as Spider-Man/Peter Parker
The show was kinda long and boring, but Nicholas Hammond was cute enough.... kinda like Larry Wilcox on CHIPS.

I later acquired an encyclopedia of sci-fi, horror and comic adaptations. The book ran an average b&w pic of Spidey in action, notable in that his jockstrap was visible underneath his tights. At age 10, that was Private Time! Nicholas Hammond has cute enough.... he could have been one of your dad's cute co-workers you got to get beers for after softball games. Yeahhhhh. Then recently I bought an in depth book about the super shows of the era and guess what? Nicholas Hammond only played Peter Parker! In the Spider-Suit was the longest haired, porno 'stached hippie you can imagine! A cloud of patchouli sprayed from the book into my face! I feel VIOLATED! Steel wool shower time! While I do that, enjoy this...

Hey Ladies? It's Lyle Waggoner as Colonel Steve Trevor from Wonder Woman!
Fun fact, the role in the 60s Batman series came down to him and Adam West! Guess Lyle had to settle with playing sidekick to Wonder Woman!

And the TOP: Gil Gerard as Buck Rogers!
I would have only been like six or seven when this show was on, but Buck Rogers working those white tights made me feel REALLY special. God, he was SO handsome!
I'll uh, forgive this pic.

Anyway onto more recent developments! The REAL list of the Hottest Men In Tights!
10. Shawn Ashmore as Iceman (X-Men)
I gotta admit, in compiling this list, it skewed way twinkier than I would have figured. But Shawn is so cute I can forgive him for not spelling his name S-E-A-N, as it should be. Bonus points for having an identical twin. (Yeah, gay guys are into that too!)

9. John Wesley Shipp as The Flash

Offsetting that a bit, like Gil Gerard, JWS is a more mature hunk. There's something about his non-symmetrical features that gives him that added rugged sex appeal. Which is odd, because when you think of the Flash in the comics, you don't really think of him as rugged! But Mr. Shipp brought it in this role. Too bad they drew from the movie Batman well and stuck him a molded foam rubber suit rather than something sleeker... you know, that a RUNNER might actually wear, rather than this cumbersome thing that would wear him out after walking five steps. Just sayin'. He went on to play Dawson's daddy on Dawson's Creek, but was killed off, even so he can be my daddy anytime!

8. Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man
Forget "Adorkable!" Tobey looked SMOKIN' HOT in that Spider-Suit!

7. Brandon Routh as Superman
Ditto Superman. Too bad nobody liked this movie. (I thought it was okay enough! I saw it twice in the theater!) Proof that you don't need to stick super heroes in armor or S&M leather to make them work.

6. Austin St. John as Jason the Red Ranger (Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers)
I used to love me some Power Rangers! (I was in college at the time!) This crazy show got me going in the morning before I discovered the magic of coffee. And Austin St. John totally got me going! God he was so HAWT! And did NOT go on to be a porn star, despite internet rumors. That last pic is of him recently and while he's packed on some pounds, I still find him very attractive. Very.

5. Chris O'Donnell as Robin (Batman Forever)
Batman Forever was GOOD! EVERYONE loved it! It was the one after that that sucked and torpedoed the franchise! (Although two of these pics are from that one.... eh, he was still cute.) Holy Codpiece! I saw this movie like FIVE times in the theater! I will ALWAYS love Chris O'Donnell. He's still dreamy!

4. Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and Hannibal King (Blade Trinity)
You know what? Stop making trilogies. The third one is ALWAYS ballz! X-Men 3, Spider-Man 3, Superman 3... ballz, ballz, ballz. Blade Trinity was crap... unbearable save for hunky, shirtless Ryan Reynolds as new addition, Hannibal King. Don't love the beard, but don't HATE it either. And I'll be honest, I never even saw Wolverine! I smelled that garbage truck coming down the street! And not even RyRey was enough enticement to lure me into that shit shack! AND he's not even through! He's coming up as Green Lantern next summer! And this time... tights! Start drooling now!

3. Chris Evans as The Human Torch (Fantastic Four)
C'mon, there's no denying Chris Evans' sexitivity! I think even animals are attracted to him! Squeeze that into a super snug "scuba suit" and AIN'T NUTHIN' WRONG WITH THAT!
And once again, more coming as he's working on Captain America to be released next year!

Anyway, if you've been paying any attention to this blog and honestly, I don't blame you if you don't, my top two should be no surprise.

2. Alan Ritchson as Aquaman (Smallville)
Blond, pretty, all-American goodness! (Even if he IS from Atlantis.) Aquaman on Smallville has a cocky swagger not found in the comics' pages. I'm not complaining! I bought his new series, Blue Mountain State on DVD and... yeah, I don't think I can ever watch it in the presence of another person. Blush!

1. Justin Hartley as Green Arrow (Smallville)
God, he is just like the most beautiful, perfect man I have ever seen. Not exaggerating. Just flawless! Plus he takes off his shirt... A LOT!!!
Once again, JUST! CUZZZ!!!

Did I omit any? Probably! And obviously, I'm not counting movies that aren't out yet. But anytime anyone makes a "definitive" list everyone thinks their list is shit and the "How dare you forget..." starts.