Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bad Buys (Volume 1)

The Awkward Toad buys bad CD's.

In fact, we've bought so many bad CD's that it would take us a very long time to list them all in one blog.

Also, since the Awkward Toad's family has migrated north to Pennsylvania, most of those CD's remain packed away in some box that will probably never see the light of day.


How about this: We will intermittently write blogs about five bad CD's we have purchased as they occur to us.

(Disclaimer: "Why buying bad is good." - The Toad is artistically curious. He makes many ill-advised purchases, but some times these risks turn up gold. The most outstanding cases at the present are Wilco's "Summerteeth", which was purchased by the Toad during the summer of his sophmore year in high school on a complete whim (Irving Longface can corroborate this.) and Queens of the Stone Age's "Rated R" which was also purchased for no good reason by the Toad during the summer after his first year in college (Mofo, holla atcha boy.). Buying bad is good because buying bad means buying blind, instead of just always getting the album all your friends listen to. In short, I regret nothing.)

Now, getting into the really bad stuff...

Emerson, Lake, & Palmer - Return of the Manticore - We'll start with the mother load. A comprehensive, four disc retrospective spanning the entire career of the late seventies prog rock trio Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. This box contains all the ELP you'll need (the songs "Lucky Man", "From the Beginning") and all the ELP you never could have imagined existed. Studio albums, rarities, extended versions (mind you, their songs are already hours long) new tracks recorded for the box ("I Believe in Father Christmas" a true highlight) as well as over 20 pages of liner notes. Probably the worst consumer decision the Toad has made in our 25 years on this planet.

New Radi
cals - Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too - This purchase was inspired by the single "You Get What You Give". The Toad believed the singer sounded like a young Mick Jagger and was throughly convinced (brainwashed?) after repeated spins on Top 40 radio that he did indeed have the music in him. Unfortunately it must have escaped before he recorded the rest of the album, or the awful video for the single, or decided on the bright yellow cover design.

Gin Blosso
ms - New Miserable Experience - The title says it all. Come on, you know this one. You may even own it. Remember "Tell me do you think it'd be alright/If I could just crash hear tonight/You see I'm in no shape for driving/And anyway I got no place to go?/HEY JEALOUSY! This winner came to the Toad packaged with 11 other CD's (including Pearl Jam's "Ten" and Soundgarden's "Superunknown") in one of those BMG 12 CD's for a penny deals. Of course, you know the deal with BMG, they continue sending you CD's you didn't ask for and you keep paying for them because it is less work than sending them back and you think maybe they might be interesting...

...which leads us too why we own...

Helmet - Betty - Don't let the cute girl with flowers on the cover fool you, this is metal. Isn't that so hard? To put a girl with flowers on the cover of a metal record? God that is so hard. (The highlight of the album is a song called "Milquetoast". Don't listen to it.)

And finally...

h - Nine Lives - Sure, the Toad went through an Aerosmith phase. In fact, it wasn't until we saw them performing with Britany Spear's during the half-time show of the Super Bowl in 2001 that we realized just how lame they are. This masterpiece, Aerosmith's late nineties "return to form." is called Nine Lives and includes the tracks "Falling in Love (Is Hard of the Knees)" which makes a profound statement about young romance and "Pink" which makes a equally profound statement about the color everyone knows is gay but won't admit it.

More to come...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Allen Iverson Top 10

Amercia, Back on Track

Meet Texas Representative Silvestre Reyes.

He has been picked by Nancy Pelosi as the next head of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the House of Representatives.

Yesterday, it was reported that in a recent interview with Congressional Quarterly, Mr. Reyes was asked if the terrorist network Al Quada was comprised primarily of Shiites or Sunnis.

He had a 50/50 chance.

He got it wrong.

First he said, "They are probably both." - That's wrong.

Then he said, "Predominantly - probably Shiite." - That's also wrong.

Al Quada is the terror network led by Osama Bin Laden and they are Sunnis who abhor religious deviation and consider Shiites heretics. (At the moment, I'm taking that information from CNN online and Reuters online, but literally it's in any book you read about the Middle East.)

Also, when asked to describe the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, (you know, Hezbollah, the group that was on TV during that little war with Israel all of last summer) this dude apparently said "Hezbollah, Uh Hezbollah...Why do you ask me these questions at 5 o'clock."

May we also mention that Reyes was a senior member of the Armed Services and Select Intelligence committees?

Now he will be the HEAD of the INTELLIGENCE committee.


Friday, December 08, 2006

A.O. Let's Go

Here at The Awkward Toad, we have made it a point not to include too many "reviews" on our blog.

In general, when it comes to art and culture, we are of the mindset that people do far too much reading and not nearly enough thinking. (not you, you're great. other people.)

Living in New York for a year and a half has convinced us that a solid majority of the city's intellectual and artistic elite daily read their opinions in the New York Times.

(How else can you explain Ben Brantley having what seems to be the final say on whether a Broadway show plays to a consistently packed house for an extended run or closes shortly after a poorly reviewed opening?)

Now, for some odd reason, this storied periodical has been magically arriving on our doorstep free-of-charge for about a week.

At first, we thought we might be "accidentally" stealing it from one of the other residents of our lavish, newly refurbished apartment paradise (read: run-down, over-priced, bug-infested shit hole.)

The past two days, however, we have let the paper sit outside until well after 6 o'clock (read: 6:01) before staking our claim
. We can only assume it does not belong to anyone in the building.

This evening's perusal of the Weekend Arts Section has brought about a particular concern.

We feel there is serious issue to be taken with the New York Times cover review of Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto" by A.O. Scott.

The Toad attended a matinée screening of the film at the Regal Theater Multiplex across the street from our beautiful apartment thanks to a discounted ticket purchased for him at the Cosco Superstore in Wilmington, Delaware by his aunt last winter. (Thanks!)

The review can be read here: http://movies2.nytimes.com/2006/12/08/movies/08apoc.html?8dpc

In it, Mr. Scott's paints "Apocalypto" as a typical Hollywood film handsomely attired with an atypical setting. He makes a case that the film has very little too offer, outside of its finely crafted action sequences and ability to divert and entertain its audience.

In this vain, he writes:

"Once you get past the costumes and the subtitles, the most striking thing about “Apocalypto” is how comfortably it sits within the conventions of mainstream moviemaking"

As well as...

"It is, all in all, a pretty good show. (Mr. Gibson is a) shrewd and bloody-minded filmmaker. He is an entertainer. He will be publicized, and he will be paid."


We feel the idea that "Apocalypto" fits "within the conventions of mainstream moviemaking" is short-sighted. (We originally wrote asinine but that seemed a little harsh.)

Rather, it fits within the conventions of good old, time-honored storytelling. And stories were stories long before Hollywood had anything to do with it.

Typical stories are told and retold because something universal and/or transcendent can be found within them. Hollywood uses these stories in the same way William Shakespeare used them during the Renaissance and the same way Walt Disney used them during the dawn of animation.

What makes "Apocalypto" refreshing is a lack of conventionality which typical Hollywood films seem unable or unwilling to avoid.

And here we don't mean "conventionality" in terms of cinematic conceits. Mel Gibson's film is without question an action movie (and a damn good one), with a decent bit of debatable history and an astonishing amount of amazing visuals thrown in.

However, unlike the typical big-budget mess Hollywood studios generally churn out, "Apocalypto" has...

...no ego maniacal actors attempting to steal the film from their ensemble and, in the process, undermining the importance of the central storyline...

...no miscast or flat-out untalented "stars" included at the behest of a studio attempting to drum up name-recognition box office...

...no veiled or impassioned pleas to some kind of vaguely considered conventional morality...

...And no hypocritical guilt trips in store for its audience, as seems to be the case with the other major release of this weekend, Edward Zwick's "Blood Diamond." (The hot and dreamy Leonardo DiCaprio inks a multi-million dollar deal to find redemption against the back drop of a thinly conceived African culture which has been brutally repressed thanks to you, the comfortable, unaware middle-class viewer.)

(Devil's Advocate says: Perhaps there is a small suggestion of the standard "religious faith as redemptive power" theme in "Apocalypto", but we are of the opinion that this would not seem nearly as considerable if it's auteur's private-life weren't so familiar.)

And for the record, we are not defending Mel Gibson. We are only defending the film. Frankly, we think Mel Gibson a bit of a wack-job. (But are you going to tell us that Walt Disney wasn't a little bit nuts, or Truman Capote, or Ernest Hemingway, or...you get the point.)

Good stories are good stories.

For our money, it's nice to see a big-budget film tell one in a simple, well-fashioned style without the usual display of self-aggrandizing nonsense.

(Also, the part where the cougar eats the guys head is really cool.)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

We Are the Plastic Ono Band

Here at the Awkward Toad, we've always believed that John Lennon turned into a bit of a lunatic after he left the Beatles.

During our youth, an ill-advised purchase of "Unfinished Music: Vol. 1: Two Virgins", Lennon's first solo album, served only to reaffirm that theory.

(The cover of that album is John Lennon and Yoko Ono nude. I was gonna put a picture up but this is a family site and no family should have to see that.)

Here is how "Two Virgins" is described by allmusic.com which gives it a one and a half star rating: "The record is not unlike what you might get if you turned on a tape recorder for a random half-hour in your home -- snatches of inaudible conversation far away from the microphone, footsteps, wind, and so on."

In reality, it is even more boring than that makes it sound.

However, The Awkward Toad has decided that we really like the album "Plastic Ono Band"and wanted to invite anyone else that was scared off by Lennon's nude album covers, curious sonic experiments, or, let's be honest, cult-like obsession with Yoko Ono, to give it a listen.

That's all.

(Oh yeah! We do not like the songs "Power to the People" and "Do the Oz" which have been included as bonus tracks on the CD version of "Plastic Ono Band". These songs are obviously recorded in a different vain than the rest of the album and stand out as particularly sub-par. We blame Yoko Ono for their inclusion. And for the break up of the Beatles. And for "Instant Karma" being used in a car commercial. And for global warming.)

Also, if you've never seen this picture, it is John Lennon with Mark David Chapman.

Chapman camped outside Lennon's New York hotel and got this autograph.

Later in the evening, as Lennon was returning home, he assassinated him.

Pretty spooky, huh?

(P.S. - We are continually impressed with how quickly the Google ad at the top of this page changes to reflect the content of the blog. It only took them one day to switch it from selling the Beatles' new "Love" CD (for the Beatles Paul is Dead post) to an ad for tickets to the Iowa vs. Iowa St. game (for the Tom Vilsack post.)

Corporate America. You're good. You. You are good.)

Friday, December 01, 2006

Tom Vilsack

If you are looking to vote for the opposite of George W. Bush in November of 2008, Tom Vilsack might be a viable candidate.

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Tom Vilsack's was orphaned at birth and adopted by a Roman Catholic working class family.

His adoptive father was a real-estate agent and insurance salesman.

He has admitted that his adoptive mother has battled alcohol and drug addiction.

He graduated from Hamilton College in New York and received a J.D. from Albany Law School.

After college, he moved with his wife to Mt. Pleasant, Iowa and joined his father-in-law's legal practice.

As a member of the Iowa State Senate, Vilsack passed legislation holding Iowa's tax-funded corporations responsible for providing their employees with competitive pay and benefits.

He helped pass legislation that provided health coverage to workers changing jobs and updated Iowa's Workforce Development Department.

Later, Vilsack became the first Democratic Governor of Iowa in 30 years.

As governor, Vilsack began the Grow Iowa Values Fund, which appropriated millions of dollars to boost the Iowa economy by offering grants to corporations and creating initiatives which would lead to the development higher-income jobs.

"In June of 2006
, Vilsack received a standing ovation from the 5,000 attendees at the Windpower 2006 Conference in Pittsburgh, PA, for speaking out for a progressive energy policy for the USA, and increasing the use of renewable energy, such as wind generation of electricity. Iowa, in recent years, has become one of the nation's leading states in development of wind energy."

A strong part of Vilsack's platform is curtailing America's reliance on foreign oil and funding programs to develop new forms of renewable energy.

Vilsack's last name rhymes with Ballsack.

(Last I checked, the opposite of Bush.)