A few weeks ago, a Pop Life reader — yep, more hate mail — took me to task for being enamored with the '70s and '80s. Instead of reviewing new music to enlighten this gentleman, I was apparently revisiting musty music that irked him. I believe the phrase "waste of space" was used. I rebutted with a gentle reminder of all the new music I had recently covered: Broken Bells, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Gorillaz. Since then: Orianthi, MGMT, Christina Aguilera. Today, Rufus Wainwright.
However . . .
Dude was kind of right.
Decades from now, when I'm done as a pop music critic and am touring the country in my cherry-red flying car, there's a good chance I'll be living on a strict musical diet of AC/DC records. And why not? I once had a wise indie-nerd friend named Jason. If you didn't make your music in a musty, roach-infested basement apartment in Washington, D.C., this guy called you a sellout. Except, that is, for the Back in Black boys. When considering them, Jason shrugged his shoulders: "What can I say? AC/DC gets the job done."
Gets the job done . . .
Angus Young & Co. are rockdom's great equalizers, maybe even more than the Stones and the Beatles. Everybody digs AC/DC; the Sydney, Australia, hellions are efficiently fun, tough, randy. They blend blues, metal and the desperate dreams of 16-year-old virgins. They are one-track-minded; they are invigorating. That's why the creators of Iron Man 2, in theaters May 7, built that blockbuster's soundtrack out of 15 AC/DC classics and album cuts.
Instead of pulling a crass Transformers 2 and going with lukewarm clunk from current ephemerals — Nickelback, the Fray, the Used — Iron Man 2 director Jon Favreau went solely with AC/DC, a band going on four decades together. The IM2 soundtrack, released last week, is not so much a greatest hits but a toughest hits, ideal accompaniment for an iconic Marvel metalhead to kick villainous butt.
Truth be told, I was supposed to review the new Hole album in this space today. Called Nobody's Daughter, the band's first new record in 12 years comes out on Tuesday. I like Courtney Love; she's a rock star in the most destructive, dead-pool sense. But after listening to a few of her grungy sonic smoker's coughs, such as first single Skinny Little B----, I lost interest. It seemed driven by celebrity and curiosity, not the thrill of rock. So I poured a beer and went back to AC/DC.
There's nothing new on the Iron Man 2 soundtrack, although casual fans will discover several goodies, including 2008's War Machine. (Comic geeks get this inclusion.) For all the well-known Brian Johnson howlers — Shoot to Thrill, Have a Drink on Me, Thunderstruck — there are nasty cutters from the late Bon Scott, the group's first singer — Rock 'n' Roll Damnation, Let There Be Rock, If You Want Blood (You've Got It). There's also a fantastically gritty '77 B-side called Cold Hearted Man that highlights the band's darker edges. As a way for parents to introduce their children to the prickly baroque guitar stylings of Schoolboy Angus, this album is a swell starter set.
AC/DC has famously refused to release an official best-of collection. But couple Iron Man 2 with the all-AC/DC soundtrack to Stephen King's 1986 flop flick Maximum Overdrive, and you have one heck of a Friday night playlist. I may get busted by readers for writing about the oldies — but with AC/DC cranked so loud, who can hear them?
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The Hate Mail Playlist
Last Saturday, at the fuzzy hour of 5:19 a.m., my BlackBerry started blinking. I was doing early-morning TV work for ABC, and during a break I checked to see who had reached out so early. Whoa! The cameraman asked why I was laughing. A fan of Bon Jovi, which was playing the St. Pete Times Forum that very night, had sent a pre-emptive piece of hate mail. I had ragged on BJ a few days earlier in this newspaper, and now a fan was getting even. The cameraman, Frank, wanted to hear it, so I happily obliged (alas, I have to edit some of the nastier stuff):
Do not, I repeat, do not review this concert. No one wants to hear what you have to say. Keep laying on your couch eating Doritos and Cheez Whiz, thinking you know something about music. Meanwhile, Bon Jovi continues to sell millions of records worldwide and tour every continent on the planet. It is not their fault your (edit) (another edit) (one more edit) and your cheeks are too chubby. Thought I'd cut you off at the pass, little buddy. Have a nice day!
A critic isn't worth much if he can't take a shot, so I wasn't irked. (Although it should be noted Frank did call me "Cheez Whiz" for the rest of the shoot.) The Jovi fan later sent a gentler followup — maybe because I didn't review the show — but there was no need. I liked her moxie! In fact, you could even say I was inspired. So in the name of airing all of our grievances, here are 10 OTHER ACTS I CAN'T STAND, plus their most grating songs, all brought to you in festive playlist form. Bon Jovi is bad, but these are worse. Unleash the Whiz!
1 Light My Fire, the Doors
2 True, Spandau Ballet
3 Losing My Religion, R.E.M.
4 TiK ToK, Ke$ha
5 Aqualung, Jethro Tull
6 Piece of My Heart, Janis Joplin
7 Haven't Met You Yet, Michael Bublé
8 Bump N' Grind, R. Kelly
9 Comfortably Numb, Pink Floyd
10 Waiting on the World to Change, John Mayer
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Album: All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu (Decca)
In stores: Now
"Special, special thanks to Kate . . ." No one believed Rufus Wainwright when the poperatic singer said he one day wanted to make a small, quiet album. After all, this is a wild child whose idea of subtle is re-creating Judy Garland's April '61 brass-off at Carnegie Hall. But after the January death of his mother, folk singer Kate McGarrigle, the 36-year-old prodigal son has indeed ditched the orchestra, the horns, the winking cheek and taken to the piano, by himself, for a 12-song cycle of love, death and loneliness. Inspired by Shakespeare (the Bard provides lyrics for three "sonnets"), Wainwright allows his marvelously elastic, undefined vocal to lift and lope untethered, and although the stormy piano accompaniment is fine, even thrilling, the album is often overwhelming in its dark, cabaret full-frontalness. It's worth repeat listens, but it's never easy. On the poignant Martha, dedicated to his singer sister, Rufus urges his sib to "go up north and see mother / Things are harder for her now." This is a messy album about growing up, bidding adieu and, ultimately, making it through. As the final words of the liner notes read: "Special, special thanks to Kate for reminding me not to be afraid. See you in Montauk, Mom!"
Download these: Martha, The Dream and What Would I Ever Do With a Rose?