Deep Album Cuts Vol. 151: Eddie Money

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

I actually wasn't going to do an Eddie Money playlist. His status as a guy with a handful of singles everybody knows but no album regarded as an essential masterpiece makes him ideal for my original purpose of the 'deep album cuts' series, and I often use this space to memorialize the recently deceased, but I initially didn't think I'd go deep on Sir Edward Money's catalog after the news of his passing on Friday. But then I had my Amazon Echo play some Money jams over dinner that night, and it kept playing songs I didn't know, some of which sounded really good, especially "Trinidad," so I kind of went fine, okay, maybe this would be fun to explore (and of course we lost another AOR staple, Ric Ocasek, over the weekend, but I've already done a Cars playlist).

Eddie Money deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Gimme Some Water
2. No Control
3. Trinidad
4. Wanna Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star
5. Stranger In A Strange Land
6. Life For The Taking
7. Passing By The Graveyard
8. Jealousys
9. Nobody Knows
10. Where's The Party?
11. Boardwalk Baby
12. Gamblin Man
13. I Can't Hold Back
14. Million Dollar Girl
15. Rock And Roll The Place
16. Maybe Tomorrow
17. Satin Angel
18. Got To Get Another Girl
19. Prove It Every Night
20. My Friends, My Friends

Tracks 4, 8, 12 and 18 from Eddie Money (1977)
Tracks 1, 6 and 15 from Life For The Taking (1979)
Tracks 3, 9, 14 and 17 from Playing For Keeps (1980)
Tracks 2, 7 and 20 from No Control (1982)
Tracks 10 and 16 from the Where's The Party? (1983)
Tracks 5 and 13 from Can't Hold Back (1986)
Track 11 from Nothing To Lose (1988)
Track 19 from Right Here (1991)

I've always been vaguely pro-Eddie Money. His major label run included two dozen charting singles from the late '70s to the early '90s, and four platinum albums, but by the time I started paying attention to music, his output had been boiled down to 4 or 5 songs in permanent classic rock rotation and nothing else -- no songs on movie soundtracks, no famous covers of his songs, no rehabilitated cult classic (although the title track of Life For The Taking was sampled for an excellent Freeway and Beanie Sigel song). Even at his peak I get the sense he was kind of a perennial underdog -- he never charter higher than #17 on the Billboard 200, and it's crazy to think that someone who sold millions over the space of a decade never had a top 10 album.

Once I started looking, though, a canon of Eddie Money deep cuts emerged. "Gimme Some Water" and "Passing By The Graveyard (Song For John B.)" are in Money's top 10 most played songs on Spotify, and it surprised me to see any album tracks there considering he had over 20 charting singles. "Water" and "Trinidad" and "Wanna Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star" and "No Control" were among his most frequently played live songs, and many of his 'greatest hits' compilations include songs that were never hits like "Trinidad," "Where's The Party?" and "Got To Get Another Girl." I'm really not sure why "Passing By The Graveyard" has almost 2 millions plays on Spotify, though, it's a good song, apparently Eddie Money became friends with John Belushi when he performed on "Saturday Night Live."

Eddie Money was kind of a unique rock star, he was almost 30 when he started making records, a shaggy-haired guy in a necktie who looked like he just got tired of his day job and walked out one day and became a rock star. It was widely reported after his death that he was an NYPD officer for a couple years, but he was actually a police academy dropout (which seems fitting since it's so easy to picture him as a character in the Police Academy movies).

Eddie Money's career peaked in that '80s moment when there were a lot of the guys who celebrated rock'n'roll most proudly were suddenly solo acts instead of bands -- Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, and Huey Lewis on the more bubblegum crossover side along with Eddie Money. He was also part of that post-Springsteen wave of pop/rock where he didn't have a whole horn section but often a lone saxophone playing lead lines and solos, except Money was the rare rock singer who himself played sax (his best performance is probably "Maybe Tomorrow").

Our modern conception of a rock star is more of someone tortured or moody, with an artistic temperament and/or a more emotional or intellectual bent to what drives them to make loud music. In that sense, Eddie Money is kind of an anomaly, a happy-go-lucky adult in the mold of rock's earliest stars (Bill Haley and Chuck Berry both became rock stars at around 30, although of course rock didn't exist when they were 20). His persona was more unassumingly goofy than a clown prince like Steven Tyler and David Lee Roth and the hair metal frontmen who followed them. A few of his songs have the solemn air of a brooding rock anthem, but "Rock And Roll The Place" more accurately lays out his philosophy. Looking at his catalog, most of his records have the most generic rock album titles you can imagine like Playing For Keeps and Can't Hold Back, with the exception of Where's The Party? being the kind of title that only Eddie Money could pull off.

Although Eddie Money did play saxophone and the occasional harmonica or keys, he was not a guitarist. So Jimmy Lyons, who was the primary guitarist on Money's first 4 albums and co-wrote about a dozen songs, including "Baby Hold On," deserves a lot of credit for his sound (he came back later to guest on Money's last top 10 hit, 1988's "Walk On Water"). I covered Money's career up through his first 8 albums for Columbia Records -- two albums after "Take Me Home Tonight," he was dropped from the label and ceased to chart on the Hot 100 (only one of his 4 later independent albums are even on streaming services).

While Eddie Money wrote most of his own songs and had a pretty strong sense of himself and what his music was, I will concede that he doesn't come across as much of an auteur or original. He has the albums of a quintessential singles artist -- sometimes a single I wasn't familiar with would come on and it would still immediately stand out as more immediate and radio-friendly than the rest of the album. But Eddie Money and Playing For Keeps are pretty solid front-to-back albums, I was a little impressed and surprised by how good they are.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
Vol. 6: George Jones
Vol. 7: The Doors
Vol. 8: Jay-Z
Vol. 9: Robin Thicke
Vol. 10: R. Kelly
Vol. 11: Fall Out Boy
Vol. 12: TLC
Vol. 13: Pink
Vol. 14: Queen
Vol. 15: Steely Dan
Vol. 16: Trick Daddy
Vol. 17: Paramore
Vol. 18: Elton John
Vol. 19: Missy Elliott
Vol. 20: Mariah Carey
Vol. 21: The Pretenders
Vol. 22: "Weird Al" Yankovic
Vol. 23: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Vol. 24: Foo Fighters
Vol. 25: Counting Crows
Vol. 26: T.I.
Vol. 27: Jackson Browne
Vol. 28: Usher
Vol. 29: Mary J. Blige
Vol. 30: The Black Crowes
Vol. 31: Ne-Yo
Vol. 32: Blink-182
Vol. 33: One Direction
Vol. 34: Kelly Clarkson
Vol. 35: The B-52's
Vol. 36: Ludacris
Vol. 37: They Might Be Giants
Vol. 38: T-Pain
Vol. 39: Snoop Dogg
Vol. 40: Ciara
Vol. 41: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Vol. 42: Dwight Yoakam
Vol. 43: Demi Lovato
Vol. 44: Prince
Vol. 45: Duran Duran
Vol. 46: Rihanna
Vol. 47: Janet Jackson
Vol. 48: Sara Bareilles
Vol. 49: Motley Crue
Vol. 50: The Who
Vol. 51: Coldplay
Vol. 52: Alicia Keys
Vol. 53: Stone Temple Pilots
Vol. 54: David Bowie
Vol. 55: The Eagles
Vol. 56: The Beatles
Vol. 57: Beyonce
Vol. 58: Beanie Sigel
Vol. 59: A Tribe Called Quest
Vol. 60: Cheap Trick
Vol. 61: Guns N' Roses
Vol. 62: The Posies
Vol. 63: The Time
Vol. 64: Gucci Mane
Vol. 65: Violent Femmes
Vol. 66: Red Hot Chili Peppers
Vol. 67: Maxwell
Vol. 68: Parliament-Funkadelic
Vol. 69: Chevelle
Vol. 70: Ray Parker Jr. and Raydio
Vol. 71: Fantasia
Vol. 72: Heart
Vol. 73: Pitbull
Vol. 74: Nas
Vol. 75: Monica
Vol. 76: The Cars
Vol. 77: 112
Vol. 78: 2Pac
Vol. 79: Nelly
Vol. 80: Meat Loaf
Vol. 81: AC/DC
Vol. 82: Bruce Springsteen
Vol. 83: Pearl Jam
Vol. 84: Green Day
Vol. 85: George Michael and Wham!
Vol. 86: New Edition
Vol. 87: Chuck Berry
Vol. 88: Electric Light Orchestra
Vol. 89: Chic
Vol. 90: Journey
Vol. 91: Yes
Vol. 92: Soundgarden
Vol. 93: The Allman Brothers Band
Vol. 94: Mobb Deep
Vol. 95: Linkin Park
Vol. 96: Shania Twain
Vol. 97: Squeeze
Vol. 98: Taylor Swift
Vol. 99: INXS
Vol. 100: Stevie Wonder
Vol. 101: The Cranberries
Vol. 102: Def Leppard
Vol. 103: Bon Jovi
Vol. 104: Dire Straits
Vol. 105: The Police
Vol. 106: Sloan
Vol. 107: Peter Gabriel
Vol. 108: Led Zeppelin
Vol. 109: Dave Matthews Band
Vol. 110: Nine Inch Nails
Vol. 111: Talking Heads
Vol. 112: Smashing Pumpkins
Vol. 113: System Of A Down
Vol. 114: Aretha Franklin
Vol. 115: Michael Jackson
Vol. 116: Alice In Chains
Vol. 117: Paul Simon
Vol. 118: Lil Wayne
Vol. 119: Nirvana
Vol. 120: Kix
Vol. 121: Phil Collins
Vol. 122: Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Vol. 123: Sonic Youth
Vol. 124: Bob Seger
Vol. 125: Radiohead
Vol. 126: Eric Church
Vol. 127: Neil Young
Vol. 128: Future
Vol. 129: Say Anything
Vol. 130: Maroon 5
Vol. 131: Kiss
Vol. 132: Dinosaur Jr.
Vol. 133: Stevie Nicks
Vol. 134: Talk Talk
Vol. 135: Ariana Grande
Vol. 136: Roxy Music
Vol. 137: The Cure
Vol. 138: 2 Chainz
Vol. 139: Kelis
Vol. 140: Ben Folds Five
Vol. 141: DJ Khaled
Vol. 142: Little Feat
Vol. 143: Brendan Benson
Vol. 144: Chance The Rapper
Vol. 145: Miguel
Vol. 146: The Geto Boys
Vol. 147: Meek Mill
Vol. 148: Tool
Vol. 149: Jeezy
Vol. 150: Lady Gaga

TV Diary

Monday, September 16, 2019

a) "The Righteous Gemstones"
Danny McBride is a relentlessly one-note performer, and I'm not the biggest fan of that note. But I will give him credit for continuing to create new shows and surrounding his stock character with increasingly better casts, so I was excited to see this new series boasts John Goodman and Adam DeVine (as well as Edi Patterson, the breakout performer of "Vince Principals," a show I otherwise had pretty mixed feelings about). Inevitably, there have been some gross-out gags, indulgent action movie setpieces, and reenactments of internet memes that have made me roll my eyes. But so far it's been pretty good, although I'm fine with people comparing it unfavorably to "Succession" and suggesting some influence, because there's never been a Jody Hill/Danny McBride production that wasn't derivative of a Adam McKay/Will Ferrell production.

b) "Unbelievable"
I've only watched the first two episodes, but what's really striking is the contrast between them. In the first, you see what Kaitlyn Dever's character goes through and it's just harrowing, maybe even moreso because the last time most of us saw Dever was when she was so charming and funny in Booksmart. The second episode isn't exactly happy, but Merrit Wever and Toni Collette entering the story kind of feel like arriving superheroes, so it's a relief to just see the wheels start to turn towards justice.

c) "This Way Up"
"This Way Up" is a pretty traditional sitcom in that it's a vehicle for a comic to play someone who says clever and funny all the time while everyone around them acts unamused and mortified. It's a very good vehicle for Irish comedian Aisling Bea, though, I'd never seen her before and she's hilarious and I love just listening to her voice. After a few episodes, I realized that since the show is about a troubled young woman and her unamused sister, it's probably been compared to "Fleabag" a lot, and it has, which I think is a little reductive, but it's very good in a more traditional way on its own merits. It's interesting to hear Aasif Mandvi speak with a British accent in this show, apparently he lived in the UK until he was 16, but he always sounded like he grew up in America on "The Daily Show."

d) "On Becoming A God In Central Florida"
The more I think about this show, the more I think the title is so unusually memorable and vivid and the pilot was so promising that it took me a few episodes to get a little bored of it. As someone who's never been able to put my finger on what I find unlikable about Kirsten Dunst, she's good in this, definitely a more substantial role than what she's had in the past. And I like that the show is set in 1992 but kind of reaffirms what I've always thought, that the '80s basically kept going well into the '90s for most of America. Still, it's a little trendy to tell stories about tacky Floridians these days, and the whole housewife-decides-to-do-something-drastic-after-her-life-falls-apart plot feels a little biolerplate cable dramedy, I'm still really rooting for the show to fully find its voice.

e) "The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance"
"Game of Thrones" must have really opened up the floodgates for darker fantasy series for there to be such an ambitous and weirdly grown up The Dark Crystal prequel series with such a huge all-star voice cast (including at least 4 "GoT" actors). I kind of like it, but even without having really grown up on the original movie, sometimes I'm taken aback by how different it can be tonally.

f) "Carnival Row"
Another adult fantasy show, with lots of faerie sex and allegories about racism. It's a little somber, though, and it doesn't help that the two stars are Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne, who are less actors than big distinctive sets of eyebrows with people attached to them. This show also expects you to be very impressed and titillated by the idea that faeries can have sex in mid-air but my wife made the good point that sex without gravity and a surface to push against or off of probably wouldn't actually be that good.

g) "Undone"
This seems to have potential from the first episode but I'm skeptical that it needed any animation, it feels like the story might have worked better as a traditional live action show and the rotoscoping feels kind of distracting and doesn't serve any purpose in the story or the visuals.

h) "The I-Land"
One of the odder twists in Neil LaBute's career is that he's been the showrunner on 4 seasons of a "Van Helsing" series about a futuristic vampire apocalypse, which doesn't even feel much of anything like his signature films. This new Netflix series he directs and writes for is another high concept sci-fi show, but in some ways it has a much more familiar LaBute vibe -- 10 people wake up with no memories on a tropical island, and immediately begin manipulating and gaslighting each other. The weird derivative premise and lousy acting really make it hard to watch, though, which is a shame, I could see the potential for this fusion of elements to make an interesting show.

i) "The A List"
Another bad and poorly acted Netflix show about mysterious things happening on a remote island, this a British show about teens at a summer camp, actually worse than "The I-Land" though.

j) "The Spy"
I'm not surprised that Sacha Baron Cohen has finally taken on a serious dramatic role, particularly after he walked away from Bohemian Rhapsody. Still, it's a little weird to see him play a real Mossad spy a year after playing a really dark satire of a Mossad agent on "Who Is America?" The episode I watched was kind of dry, didn't find it interesting. Also, maybe I'm just used to seeing Noah Emmerich play Americans and have a little more weight on him, but I really thought he looked and sounded awful in this, it just made me so uncomfortable.

k) "Wu-Tang: An American Saga"
Music biopics often make me wish I was watching a documentary about the same subject, so I'm glad Showtime's docuseries "Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics And Men" aired a few months before Hulu's dramatized Wu show came out, so I've already seen the real story and don't have to crave that while I'm watching the reenactment. It's not bad, it's fun to see Dave East and Joey Bada$$ play better rappers than they'll ever be, but ODB's a really difficult person to play and I don't think TJ Atoms pulls it off.

l) "Wu Assassins"
After there were already 2 shows about the Wu-Tang Clan this year, I half expected "Wu Assassins" to be about them too. But it's a martial arts show where the hero is a chef, which means there are a lot of fight scenes taking place in kitchens, which is always cool, there's so many different things to be used as entertaining fight props in that setting.

m) "Two Sentence Horror Stories"
I'm not sure where 'two sentence horror stories' started, if one particular author came up with the idea and a bunch of them, but if you look around the internet there are many, many examples, and they're pretty fun to read because they give you just enough detail to get your imagination going. The CW doing an anthology series where each half hour episode plays out a two sentence horror story (you see the first sentence at the beginning and then the second sentence at the end, right after you see the story's twist or kicker) is a cool idea on paper. But it kind of misses the point of something that's all about leaving the details to your imagination,

n) "Sherman's Showcase"
This show feels like IFC's informal companion piece to "Documentary Now!" that parodies black variety shows and music programs like "Soul Train" instead of old documentaries. Some of the songs and period details are great but it gets a little broad and obvious sometimes.

o) "Better Than Us"
This Russian series on Netflix is about a near future where people are served by human-looking robots (played by human actors). It seems pretty well done, but it's also very similar to the British series "Humans" from a few years ago that I lost interest in fairly quickly, so I don't know if I care enough to see if their follow through is better.

p) "45 rpm"
The Spanish language Netflix series "45 rpm" is about the rise of rock music in Spain in the 1960s. It reminds me a bit of other recent fictionalized music history shows like "Vinyl" and "The Get Down," but in a way I think it's easier for me to watch with interest because I don't know as much about the subject matter so I feel like I'm learning something or at least not noticing and nitpicking obvious inaccuracies.

q) "The Naked Director"
This show is a biography of one of Japan's most famous pornographers, it's really filthy and funny, kind of uncomfortable but entertaining in the way Zack And Miri Make A Porno wishes it was.

r) "Bulletproof"
A British show that CW aired over the summer. Even a really traditional British cop drama is at least kind of novel to me because crime and policing and the culture are so different from the US, not a bad show, good cast, catchy theme song.

s) "This Is Football"
This is a really cool Amazon docuseries that looks at soccer all over the world in different countries and culture, great concept and solid execution.

t) "Workin' Moms"
I was happy to spotlight this Canadian show in my recent Complex piece about summer TV, but since Netflix released the 2nd season in July and the 3rd season in August, I'm still working my way through the former and haven't started the latter yet. They've progressively gotten more playful with flashbacks and weirder gags, but it works, the comedy is still really grounded in the characters and relatable parenting stuff.

u) "Lodge 49"
I wish I got the sense this show was catching on but I don't, I'm just savoring the 2nd season without getting my hopes up that there'll be a 3rd. I love the way the first couple episodes of the new season felt kind of aimless but then by the 3rd episode they started to show how the storyline ties into the bigger arc from the first season. This is a show that features Brian Doyle-Murray eulogizing a co-worker by saying "Trees are just hairs on the scalp of the earth and we are lice crawling through them. You were the slowest louse, which was fast enough to make you a man." I love it.

v) "Succession"
I'm glad that this show is catching on pretty well, it's just so entertainingly foul and tawdry and everyone in the cast is note perfect. Nicholas Braun as Cousin Greg is right on the line of being too over-the-top but he's fantastic, especially because I'm really not sure how old he's supposed to be, the actor is 31 but the character looks 21 and acts 11.

w) "Mindhunter"
I'm still early into the new season but that episode with David Berkowitz and the BTK killer's victim who survived was pretty great, this is really a rare show where they can do long 20-minute dialogue scenes and be gripping the whole time.

x) "GLOW"
This show is still very good and charming. But Marc Maron has always been my least favorite part of it, and now it wants me to be invested in a will-they-or-won't-they storyline with Maron and a woman 20 years younger than him? Nah, uh uh, no thank you, please move onto something else.

y) "Preacher"
I'm enjoying the final season, although it feels a little anticlimactic that it's ending just as another Ennis/Rogen/Goldberg show, "The Boys," has gotten a lot more attention (I like it less but it's execution is stronger, if that makes sense).

z) "Suits"
It really feels like the 9th and last season of "Suits" is limping to the finish line with 3 of the 4 most important characters from the early seasons gone -- even the one episode where Patrick J. Adams came back felt kind of perfunctory and unsatisfying. That said, I still like the remaining cast and enjoy watching these characters, Rick Hoffman as Louis Litt is always great TV and even giving him stuff like a goofy dream sequence is entertaining.

Monthly Report: September 2019 Singles

Friday, September 13, 2019

1. Ed Sheeran f/ Chris Stapleton and Bruno Mars - "Blow" 
Ed Sheeran's No.6 Collaborations Project is an interesting record in that it allows him to dip his toe into a lot more sounds than his proper albums usually contain, at least in theory -- most of the tracks are in the clubby R&B or pop rap vein of "Shape of You" and "Don't," which tends to make me cringe. And that makes the closing track, "Blow," a full-on cock rock song, stand out all the more. It's funny how a song with 3 huge platinum stars, including arguably the 2 biggest male singers in the world right now, is effectively invisible to most people who listen to Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars because it's a hard rock song with a guitar solo, maybe the 8th or 10th most popular song on the album despite being one of the advance promo singles. It did get to #17 on the Mainstream Rock Songs chart (a little higher than Stapleton's previous rock radio crossover "Midnight Train To Memphis"), and my local station 98 Rock has been playing it quite a bit, it sounds great in between Def Leppard and Van Halen songs. Here's my favorite 2019 singles playlist I update every month. 

2. Volbeat - "Last Day Under The Sun" 
The Danish band Volbeat are another good example of the odd invisibility of popular hard rock in the context of popular music. They've had half a dozen rock radio #1s and play 20,000-seat venues when they tour America, but I'm sure a good number of the people reading this post never even heard of the band before. Most of their hits are kind of unpleasant tough guy jock jams that I usually hate -- one of them literally contains the words "let's get ready to rumble" -- but "Last Day Under The Sun" is a total breath of fresh air by comparison, a big bright catchy uptempo song with female backup singers wailing over the fade out. 

3. Zara Larsson - "All The Time"
I always think Zara Larsson should be as big in the U.S. as she is in Europe, but I'm surprised that "All The Time" didn't at least go top 10 in the countries where her singles usually do. The way it just bursts out with that first line -- "Summertime and I'm caught in the feeling" -- has such a classic summer jam feel to it. 

4. Luke Bryan - "Knockin' Boots"  
The first time I saw that Luke Bryan had a song called "Knockin' Boots," I was very concerned that he might have covered or interpolated H-Town's "Knockin' Da Boots," and even though he didn't, a Luke Bryan original with that title is a little frightening. But I have to admit, this is a tremendously catchy song, Luke Bryan has long been my least favorite country superstar and this is basically the first song of his that I've really liked since his 2007 debut single "All My Friends Say." 

5. Summerella - "Pretty Bitches In The Trap" 
I was confused when Summerella started showing up on the R&B radio charts around the same time as Summer Walker, as if one was a Pokemon evolution of the other. This song is kind of goofy and ridiculous but that's a great hook. The verses kind of feel like filler, though, I'm fine with listening to the remix with Gucci Mane and Trouble instead of the original. 

6. Fantasia - "Enough"
Fantasia Barrino's always been an incredible singer and even if the mainstream attention of the "American Idol" win has faded a bit, I think she's really at her peak creatively. Her last 2 albums were her best yet and found her getting more involved in songwriting, and she seems really charged up about going in a Tina Turner-inspired "rock/soul" direction with her new stuff. 

7. Sam Smith - "How Do You Sleep?"
I've always liked Sam Smith's more beat-driven crossover records more than their ballads (other than "Too Good At Goodbyes," that was great), so I'm glad that their recent stuff has been moving in that direction, I'm really rooting for them more now than I ever expected to. The EDM 'drop' where Smith's voice is sampled and played like a synth squealing a wordless melody is the kind of thing that was trendier back in 2016 and I worried that it was kind of an unnecessary addition to a song that would be fine without it, but it's grown on me. 

8. Maddie & Tae - "Die From A Broken Heart" 
When Maddie & Tae released their latest EP a few months ago, this song really hit me immediately, it's such an evocative and emotional lyric. I didn't necessarily think it had radio potential, but I'm glad they're working it as a single now.

9. Ingrid Andress - "More Hearts Than Mine"
I kind of paired "Die From A Broken Heart" and "More Hearts Than Mine" together in my head, because they're both country songs written from the perspective of a young woman whose heart was just broken and is taking solace in her family, they hit some of the same buttons really well.

10. Miley Cyrus - "Slide Away" 
I've never been much of a fan of Miley's Mike WiLL Made It-assisted mid-2010s reinvention, or really much of any of the stuff she's done since then, including the EP she released in May. So I was a little skeptical of everyone raving about the breakup song she wrote right after her split from her husband made the news. This song is nice, though, I'm sure she'll annoy me again soon but "Slide Away" is good. 

The Worst Single of the Month: Layton Greene, Lil Baby, City Girls and PnB Rock - "Leave Em Alone"
It's crazy to me that R&B nostalgia has cycled around to the point that we're getting remakes of songs from 2007 that weren't particularly good or particularly big the first time, Hitmaka is really just trying to get blood from a stone with some of these samples and interpolations. But I think what I really dislike about this is that the new vocal is so terrible that it makes me think "I miss real singers like Ciara!" 

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 150: Lady Gaga

Thursday, September 12, 2019

A decade ago, Lady Gaga was pop's newly anointed superstar, widely regarded as a once-in-a-generation talent who'd be reigning over the charts for the foreseeable future. Instead, she spent most of the 2010s on a perpetual commercial (and arguably creative) decline, still respected and highly visible but increasingly just an established star who performs at major televised events, not a current hitmaker. A Star Is Born and its soundtrack reversed that trend, giving Gaga her first #1 single in 8 years (propelled there by an awards show, of course) and, until last month, the top-selling album of 2019. But I'm curious if this is comeback will sustain into Gaga's next studio album or if it will do more to launch her acting career or keep her appearing at every award show for the next few decades.

Lady Gaga deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. So Happy I Could Die
2. Hair
3. Look What I Found
4. The Fame
5. Monster
6. A-YO
7. Fashion!
8. Why Did You Do That?
9. Sheiße
10. Lush Life
11. Firefly with Tony Bennett
12. Hey Girl featuring Florence Welch
13. Teeth
14. Heal Me
15. Beautiful, Dirty, Rich
16. Jewels N' Drugs featuring T.I., Too $hort and Twista
17. Government Hooker
18. Diggin' My Grave with Bradley Cooper
19. Paper Gangsta
20. Dance In The Dark
21. Highway Unicorn (Road To Love)

Tracks 4, 15 and 19 from the The Fame (2008)
Tracks 1, 5, 13 and 20 from The Fame Monster (2009)
Tracks 2, 9, 17 and 21 from Born This Way (2011)
Tracks 7 and 16 from Artpop (2013)
Tracks 10 and 11 from Cheek To Cheek with Tony Bennett (2014)
Tracks 6 and 12 from the Joanne (2016)
Tracks 3, 8, 14 and 18 from A Star Is Born Soundtrack with Bradley Cooper (2018)

Lady Gaga got off to a pretty huge start to her career, with her first 2 singles going to #1, although it took a while for "Just Dance" to get there. But I regarded her with a little bit of skepticism until "Bad Romance," at which point I was fully on board. Deluxe editions with a few new songs to extend the commercial shelflife of an album were just coming into vogue then, but The Fame Monster was probably the best example of the custom -- it added a whole new disc of 8 new songs that spawned 3 hits and is just by itself easily her best album. The original The Fame is pretty hit and miss to me, a few of the songs practically have the same beat as "Just Dance," but when I dug in recently there were some tracks that sound kind of fresh and unlike any of her hits.

I have a lot of fondness for Born This Way, I thought it really merged her bleeding edge pop instincts with her dad rock influences in an interesting way that never gelled the same way in following albums. Clarence Clemons appearing on a huge pop album just before his death was bittersweet, I love what he did there, "The Edge of Glory" is one of my favorite Gaga singles and "Hair" one of my favorite deep cuts. And I just adore that when she was at the very pinnacle of her career she filled an album with songs with titles like "Government Hooker," "Sheiße," and "Highway Unicorn."

I really don't have a lot of love for Artpop or Joanne as albums, but if you pull out the best songs there's some good stuff there. I'm glad that Lady Gaga never veered too far into hip hop (we dodged a bullet when Kendrick didn't use the version of "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe" with her) but "Jewels N' Drugs" makes pretty excellent use of 3 rap greats. I'm still annoyed that "A-YO" never got a proper single push after it sounded great in TV ads, and I forgot that Joanne had a good Florence + The Machine duet, kind of a surprising summit of perhaps the popular music's 2 best white lady singers of the past decade.

One of the interesting things to me about A Star Is Born is that all 3 of the singles from the soundtrack were ballads. So the more uptempo dance pop songs that are Ally's hit singles in the movie narrative like "Heal Me" and "Why Did You Do That?" are deep cuts in our world. And of course the latter plays a key role in the story because Jackson Maine hates it and the audience is primed to ridicule it, too. But really, I think it's one of the better songs in the movie, better than a lot of the sleepy ballads. I've joked that in a version of A Star Is Born that's about Lady Gaga and Akon instead of Ally and Jackson, there would be a scene where Akon is backstage at "Saturday Night Live," disgusted that she's performing a song that isn't about butts.

Movie Diary

Monday, September 09, 2019

a) Widows
Man, this movie was fantastic, I'm kind of mad that it didn't quite climb out of the action movie niche and get more awards season love. In the wrong hands it could've been just a darker Ocean's 8 (which I would've been fine with). But Gillian Flynn's script and Steve McQueen's direction gave the whole thing this intense air of dread, so that you really get a visceral sense of of the mourning and desperation of Viola Davis and Elizabeth Debicki's characters, and the casual cold-blooded menace of Brian Tyree Henry and Daniel Kaluuya's characters, who were just incredible in every scene they were in.

b) The Angry Birds Movie 2
Not the best movie my 9-year-old has asked me to take him to see, but it was fun. They gave the Jason Sudeikis bird a love interest, a bird voiced by Rachel Bloom, which I would totally watch as a non-animated rom com. I did raise my eyebrow at the scene where a group of pigs called 'squeal team 6' ambushed the home of an enemy leader -- essentially a joke about the killing of Osama Bin Laden in a kids movie.

c) Stan & Ollie
As someone who's always cringed at fatsuits and facial prosthesis, I really have to hand it to the team on Stan & Ollie, I thought John C. Reilly actually put on the weight to play Oliver Hardy and had to look up and figure out that was not the case. This was really good, I generally think biopics are better when they focus on a particular isolated period of time instead of jumping through the years, and by setting this movie at the end of their careers, you kind of get the whole story unspooled as the baggage of their relationship. They also bucked biopic convention by casting the right moderately famous character actors for the part instead of squeezing the biggest possible star into the role. Sometimes I thought the director kind of threw dramatic strings over moments that would've worked better just letting the scene play unadorned, though.

d) Mary Poppins Returns
I have only the faintest memories of seeing the original Mary Poppins as a child but I was still impressed with how well this conjured the spirit and the aesthetic of the Julie Andrews version while still giving Emily Blunt room to make the role her own. She's so insanely talented, I love that she can pull this off in between being a badass in action movies. Lin-Manuel Miranda's cockney accent was a bit of a chore to listen to, though.

e) Ralph Breaks The Internet
There's a reason I don't like to watch a lot of trailers and previews -- I saw the hilarious Disney princess scene from Ralph Breaks The Internet when it made the rounds before the movie came out, so it was kind of anticlimactic many months later to see a movie where I already knew the funniest scene. A good sequel, though, they got a lot of comic mileage out of the premise.

f) First Man
Damien Chazelle and Ryan Gosling coming off of a big Oscar movie with the most transparent Oscar bait biopic imaginable, literally just picking up a script that Clint Eastwood was at one point going to direct, had me pretty well biased against First Man. But once it actually didn't get a best picture nom, I could at least drop some of my defenses and take it at face value, since I really liked Whiplash and thought even La La Land was well made despite its problems. And while Chazelle could only do so much to put his own signature on the now pretty well worn visuals of NASA movies, and it was a bit slow moving, it was a perfectly alright movie (but still didn't deserve any more than the visual effect Oscar it got.

g) Solo: A Star Wars Story
In my opinion, Star Wars movies are best taken as light entertainment, particularly something like this that just exists as a one-off fan service about the one character who seemed perpetually kind of amused and blithely disinterested in the mythology of the story he was in. But the behind-the-scenes drama around Solo and the change of directors threatened to overshadow the movie itself, and I guess it kind of did since anything less than billion dollar box office is considered a failure on this scale. But I tried to just look past all that and take the movie at face value, and I found it pretty enjoyable. I tend to hate when iconic roles that belonged to one actor for decades get handed off to a new actor, but Alden Ehrenreich was pretty good, probably better than his reputation, and it was fun to watch Donald Glover do a full-on Billy Dee Williams impression. The movie was a little darker than it needed to be, like literally, in terms of the lighting, though.

Monthly Report: August 2019 Albums

Saturday, September 07, 2019

1. Young Thug - So Much Fun
It's been almost a year since I wrote a Vulture piece about all the ways Young Thug had spent a half decade getting in his own way and short-changing his career potential. And it seemed really simple to me that all he really had to do was one normal album cycle with an advance radio single and announced release date to get back on track and finally do solid first week numbers. But I'd kinda given up on him actually doing that, until it all fell together for So Much Fun. I'd started to worry that he'd kind of gotten too musically stuck in a holding pattern to make a great album, especially since I don't really care for the big single, "The London." But this is killer, "Light It Up" and "Big Tipper" are my personal highlights but there are really no skips since "The London" just pops up at the end harmlessly. Here's the 2019 albums playlist I fill with every new release I listen to.

2. Rapsody - Eve
I'm still stuck on Laila's Wisdom as Rapsody's masterpiece, but Eve is another great record from one of the best MCs out there. Like LEGACY! LEGACY! by Jamila Woods earlier this year (or Jeffery by Young Thug a few years ago), every song on Eve is named after the artist's heroes and influences, all black women in this case. But I wasn't even looking at the tracklist on my first listen so I was just enjoying the songs as is, now the thematic undercurrent is sinking in a little more, and "Whoopi," "Serena," "Iman" and "Hatshepsut" are my favorites.

3. Raphael Saadiq - Jimmy Lee
This is at best Raphael Saadiq's third best solo album, but it's really something new and essential from him, darker and more autobiographical than his other records, named after his brother who overdosed on heroin 20 years ago. I really like the abrupt transitions from track to track on here, particularly from "Sinners Prayer" to "So Ready," it really gives the album an interesting texture that contributes to the anxious, agitated air of the songs.

4. SiR - Chasing Summer
Top Dawg Entertainment has a tendency to let their artists go years between projects, sometimes even when they don't want to but aren't bankable stars yet. So I'm glad that SiR has been able to put out a project every year with TDE, first two EPs and now two albums, and really grow his fanbase gradually with his subtle slow burner songs. The mid album run of "Fire" and "New Sky" and "Lucy's Love" is my favorite part of Chasing Summer, but there are some potential singles here, particularly "Touch Down."

5. Red Hearse - Red Hearse
Jack Antonoff produced the majority of two August releases that are the highest selling (Taylor Swift) and perhaps most acclaimed (Lana Del Rey) albums of 2019. But people kind of have a weird thing about loving the records Antonoff makes and resenting that he's involved, whether it's residual resentment for Bleachers or Lena Dunham, or just that he's the dorky male feminist type dude who seems to work with every other admired woman in music. In any event, the Antonoff release from last month that I found myself getting into the most was the debut from Red Hearse, his new trio with singer Sam Dew (best known for the hook on a minor Wale single) and producer Sounwave (best known for many of Kendrick Lamar's best songs). It's an odd and whimsical little record, and the title of the song "Red Hearse" is an uhhhh anatomical metaphor, but it sounds great and fuses a lot of different styles together interestingly.

6. Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell
As someone who's rolled their eyes at the title Norman Fucking Rockwell for months, I'm impressed at how much I like the title track that opens the album. As far as aggressively branded sad girls who spike their vulnerability and platitudes with curse words for effect, I still prefer Tove Lo's last album, but this is a good record, I kinda get why it's become her first album to get really huge consensus acclaim even if it's just an incremental step up from her previous work. I never thought a mastery of spare piano ballads would reveal her strengths as a vocalist, but here we are. I have to wonder if "Doin' Time" was going to be on the album before it became her biggest alternative radio hit, even for an artist with a very evolved sense of camp, Lana singing "Bradley's on the microphone with Ras MG" is a bridge too far for me, I kind of grit my teeth to get past that track and back to the good songs. That little stutter on "Bartender" is the only time I really remember how bad Lana sounded when she started out.

7. Chants - Seven Spheres
I have been friendly with Jordan Cohen for a number of years and I've been really proud to see his career take off producing tracks under the name chants. He's a talented drummer who's played in New Orleans brass bands, so I can't help but hear how that informs his work programming beats, particularly on Seven Spheres, which features some live djembe and marimba, and even the synths often have the texture of mallet percussion.

8. The Bird And The Bee - Interpreting The Masters, Volume 2: A Tribute to Van Halen
When The Bird And The Bee released their first Interpreting The Masters album covering Hall & Oates 9 years ago, I jokingly but accurately predicted that a future volume of the series would feature the songs of Van Halen, based largely on the band's earlier DLR tribute "Diamond Dave" and also some familial connections (Ted Templeman produced some of the best albums by both Van Halen and The Bird And The Bee singer Inara George's father, Lowell George of Little Feat). The idea of covering early Van Halen songs with piano and synths in place of guitar is a little funny -- I think about the Billy Joel VH1 special where he self-deprecatingly played the "Sunshine of Your Love" riff on piano to illustrate that it's hard to pull off hard rock without guitars. But Greg Kurstin totally rises to the occasion and finds creative ways to play "Eruption" or the "Hot For Teacher" solo on a grand piano without losing the electric showboating spirit Eddie Van Halen's performances. Even when they do Van Halen's biggest keyboard-driven hit, "Jump," they switch it up, having George stack vocal harmonies to perform the synth riff.

9. Midland - Let It Roll
Let It Roll hasn't struck me as immediately as Midland's 2017 debut On The Rocks but it sounds like a solid continuation of their sound. Country music is great at mythologizing its past, and nobody has plumbed nudie suit retro as well as Midland lately, but their songs themselves are often self-referential about country lyrical tropes, from "Cheatin' Songs" to "Every Song's A Drinkin' Song."

10. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Infest The Rats' Nest
I was excited to hear that King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard would release their second album of 2019, given how great their several 2017 albums were, but I was a little skeptical about this one being a one-off excursion into heavy metal. But I generally like '70s hard rock and proto metal a lot more than what the genre later became, and I supposed I should have expected that King Gizzard's '70s-heavy sensibility would lead them toward an album that mostly reminds me of Motorhead and Sabbath. They really got into the apocalyptic metal vibe in an entertaining way with the lyrics, too, with timely songs like "Mars For The Rich" and "Superbug" in particular ("H1N1 was a flop/ Anti-microbial resistance is futile/ Superbug is like a truck/ Penicillin is a duck that's sitting on the road").

The Worst Album of the Month: 93PUNX - 93PUNX
In August, former Roc Nation singers Justine Skye and Bridget Kelly quietly released pretty good independent EPs. Meanwhile, Roc Nation released a terrible side project from perennial problem child Vic Mensa, who's probably pretty horrified to realize that even at the crest of a Chance The Rapper backlash, people will never like him as much as his old frenemy. Vic Mensa isn't untalented, but he's gone through so many ill-fitting musical costumes in the last few years, and screaming over power chords suits him even less than some of the others. He samples Bad Brains at one point to nod to the great and often unheralded history of black punk rockers, but his songs with Good Charlotte and Travis Barker don't add much to that legacy.

Friday, September 06, 2019

The Who are on tour, so I revamped my deep cuts playlist for City Pages.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

I wrote about 13 summer 2019 TV shows you might've slept on for Complex.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 149: Jeezy

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

This month the artist formerly known as Young Jeezy released his 9th and purportedly final solo album, TM104: The Legend of the Snowman. And while debuting at #4 on the charts is pretty good for someone who's fallen pretty far from prominence, who's only had one minor radio hit out of his last 4 albums, it's still a far cry from topping the charts several times. I'm always skeptical when a rapper announces their retirement, especially someone as relatively young as Jeezy who doesn't have any high profile career outside of music. But if this the end, I wanted to take a look back at a catalog that I think is a little better than it gets credit for.

Jeezy deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Get Ya Mind Right
2. Trap Or Die f/ Bun B
3. Bottom Of The Map
4. Bang f/ T.I. and Lil Scrappy
5. J.E.E.Z.Y.
6. Bury Me A G
7. Hypnotize (Intro)
8. Welcome Back
9. Circulate
10. Wordplay
11. Get Allot
12. Nothing
13. Everythang
14. Beez Like f/ Boosie Badazz
15. No Tears f/ Future
16. J Bo
17. Bout That f/ Lil Wayne
18. G-Wagon
19. American Dream f/ J Cole and Kendrick Lamar
20. Mr. Pyrex

Tracks 1, 2, 3 and 4 from Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101 (2005)
Tracks 5, 6 and 7 from The Inspiration (2006)
Tracks 8, 9, 10 and 11 from the The Recession (2008)
Tracks 12 and 13 and  from TM:103 Hustlerz Ambtion (2011)
Tracks 14 and 15 from the Seen It All: The Autobiography (2014)
Track 16 from Church In These Streets (2015)
Tracks 17 and 18 from Trap Or Die 3 (2016)
Track 19 from Pressure (2017)
Track 20 from TM104: The Legend of the Snowman (2019)

I thought about trying to cover Jeezy's mixtape work in addition to the albums. But the only mixtapes that are available in full on streaming services are some of the mediocre ones circa 2006, and I was still able to kick the playlist off with a couple of Trap Or Die highlights that were reprised on Jeezy's proper debut album. And it's kind of fitting to stick to Jeezy's 9 Def Jam albums, since he's one of the few southern rappers of his generation who used mixtapes as a springboard to his major label career but then did most of his best work on his albums.

Predictably, Shawty Redd productions make up about 1/3rd of this playlist, most of Jeezy's radio singles were by big A-list producers but his albums were always filled out by great tracks by Shawty Redd (and later, Lil Lodi and D. Rich), with J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League and Don Cannon making essential contributions. The Recession has long been my favorite Jeezy album, in part because it stood out as so confident in Jeezy's core sound while his closest contemporaries were going all over the place with albums like Paper Trail and Tha Carter III.

It's hard not to look at Jeezy's career through the lens of his rivalry with Gucci Mane, and the way Jeezy ended up with all the industry backing back in 2005 and came out of the gate with a blockbuster album and then slowly declined in sales, while Gucci kind of built up cult hero status before being more widely celebrated in the last couple years. Those two very different trajectories make Jeezy seem like the inferior artist of the two of them, and while he's a less skilled rapper and has been less influential in the long run, they still make up the big 3 of Atlanta trap alongside T.I. And Jeezy has really had a huge impact, just in terms of how he was able to use things like memorable ad libs to turn a pretty dark and ominous aesthetic into the basis for a really commercially successful career, crossing over without really making really crossover-friendly music, becoming the Atlanta guy that every A-list east coast rapper could do songs with.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

I wrote a piece for Billboard called Worth the Wait: The 10 Best Albums That Fans Waited Over a Decade For.

Monthly Report: August 2019 Singles

Saturday, August 17, 2019

1. Luke Combs - "Beer Never Broke My Heart"
Luke Combs is on a record-setting run right now, as the first artist who's gone to #1 on country radio with each of his first 6 singles (and his second album doesn't even have a release date yet). I'm not even sure exactly how it happened, this big guy with a neckbeard taking off in a way that dozens of bro country heartthrobs didn't. 4 of those songs were ballads, so that's apparently a big component of his success, but I like the two uptempo ones, "When It Rains It Pours" and "Beer Never Broke My Heart," a lot more, they just suit his voice and his personality better and are big, silly, hooky things. I don't know if the idea that football teams cause more heartbreak than alcohol holds up, though. Here's the favorite 2019 singles playlist I update every month. 

2. Ari Lennox - "BMO" 
I'm surprised that I didn't single this song out as a favorite when Ari Lennox released her album a few months ago, it just sounds so fantastic on the radio. The beat really evokes a particular 1997 vibe, not in an overtly retro way, it just sounds like something SWV or somebody could've released back then. 

3. Megan Thee Stallion f/ DaBaby - "Cash Shit" 
I love songs where 2 rappers link up right at the moment both of their careers are exploding and seem to be in perfect sync, and as far as I'm concerned Megan and DaBaby are by far 2019's best breakthrough rappers. I'm a little ambivalent about the just-released non-album single "Hot Girl Summer" possibly pulling away spins from "Cash Shit" just as it's gaining momentum, but I think there's room for both songs to be hits. 

4. Ariana Grande and Social House - "Boyfriend" 
I was a little annoyed at Ariana Grande releasing a post-Thank U, Next single just 6 months after the album's release, I thought she'd at least let that album breathe a little longer than Sweetener. But it turns out that it's from the new EP by Ariana's frequent collaborators Social House, so I guess that's alright. It's kinda cool to see her hit this point where she's at the peak of her popularity and really prolific at the same time so she can hand off pretty good songs to Social House and Normani for their records. 

5. Tove Lo - "Glad He's Gone" 
The last thing Tove Lo released, Blue Lips, was my #1 album of 2017, but I liked it so much more than any of her previous work that I wasn't sure how much to anticipate her next moves. But I really like "Glad He's Gone," although it feels like a pivot away from the sound of Blue Lips and perhaps an attempt to revive her commercial momentum with something more radio-friendly, but it still has her weird profane sense of humor and the video is hilarious. I was surprised they didn't officially credit this song with a "Big Yellow Taxi" interpolation, though. 

6. Hobo Johnson - "Typical Story" 
The live performance of the song "Peach Scone" that went viral last year and made Hobo Johnson semi-famous really made me cringe with all its poetry slam cleverness, and I felt kind of terrified the day recently when I saw that his first major label single was the 'hot shot debut' on the alternative chart. But "Typical Story" is really fast and catchy compared to everything else I've heard by him, and while his prose is still really purple and his delivery is really hammy, I kind of appreciate hearing him try to cram that vocal style into a big hooky radio single. 

7. Lucky Daye - "Roll Some Mo" 
Lucky Daye has one of the worst stage names in recent memory, but his album's good, I'm glad to see this song become kind of a sleeper hit. 

8. Young The Giant - "Heat of the Summer"  
Young The Giant followed up their biggest hit in years with a really summery song with "summer" in the title, I feel like this should have gone over bigger. It's really imagine it being a giant pop hit with slightly shinier broader production. 

9. DJ Khaled f/ Meek Mill, Lil Baby, Jeremih and J Balvin - "You Stay"
Now that practically every '90s Bad Boy single has been sampled and remade, sometimes several times, it feels appropriate that we're now getting into No Way Out deep cuts like "Senorita," the basis of "You Stay." It's weird to think that Meek Mill and Lil Baby are currently two of the top practitioners of love raps on the radio. 

10. Blac Youngsta - "Cut Up" 
Blac Youngsta has generally been my least favorite out of this newer generation of Memphis rap stars, there's something charming about his unapologetically goofy persona but he just doesn't make very good music, "Booty" felt like it failed by the low bar of craftmanship for a rap song about ass. So I'm pleasantly surprised at how much "Cut Up" has grown on me, just a great unique beat and he gets a nice energetic flow going for once. I like the way his ad libs are looped to be part of the beat, Blac Youngsta just flatly saying "whore" in the background every 4 bars is hilarious. 

The Worst Single of the Month: Shawn Mendes f/ Camila Cabello - "Senorita"
The first collaboration between Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello, "I Know What You Did Last Summer," was really good and one of the first things I'd enjoyed by either of them. But this song is just eye-rolling, it feels like both this and Ed Sheeran's Cabello collaboration "South of the Border" were both writen by the same Santana featuring Rob Thomas lyric generator. Mendes probably doesn't need to make any songs without Teddy Geiger co-writing. And since it was released less than 2 months after "If I Can't Have You," I feel like it shortened the chart run of a much better Mendes song. 

TV Diary

Friday, August 16, 2019

a) "The Boys"
Now that the superhero genre has kind of swallowed the entertainment industry whole, we've got a whole canon of things that subvert or satirize the conventions of the genre. Having not read the graphic novel it's based on, I wasn't sure if "The Boys" was going to tread familiar territory, but a few episodes in, I'd say it's got its own distinct flip on the genre, dark and cynical but otherwise not derivative of, say, Watchmen. But even having watched a few seasons of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's other adaptation of a Garth Ennis comic, "Preacher," I was a little surprised by the gore -- there's a grisly and detailed explosion or evisceration of a human body in almost every episode. It's good, though, really kind of ends up feeling like a realistic depiction of how humans would superpowers would give into greed and self interest if they existed but would still want to be seen as heroic.

b) "Pennyworth"
One of my favorite recent satires of superhero movies was Teen Titans GO! To The Movies, where Robin gets his hopes up that the next Batman spinoff movie will be about him, only to see trailers for action movies about Alfred and the Batmobile. So I think about a lot when I watch "Pennyworth," a prequel series about Bruce Wayne's future butler that's even more deeply unnecessary than "Gotham." It's a pretty well made and entertaining show, but it would just as good if the characters weren't named Alfred Pennyworth and Thomas Wayne, I don't really get anything out of that context always lurking in the background.

c) "Pearson"
When talk started up a couple years ago of Gina Torres's "Suits" character getting her own spinoff series, it seemed like a pretty good idea to me. But now, with "Pearson" finally debuting alongside the final season of "Suits" limping to the finish line with a fairly different cast than the show started with, it feels like maybe they waited too long to make it happen. Also, New York lawyer Jessica Pearson now works for the mayor of Chicago and the character's personal background seems kind of incidental, like "Pennyworth," they could've just renamed the character and not made it a spinoff of anything and it would've been just as interesting, if not moreso.

d) "A Black Lady Sketch Show"
Robin Thede had some pretty funny moments on "The Nightly Show" and her own shortlived BET show "The Rundown" so I was rooting for her new HBO sketch show. It's a little hit and miss so far, but the first two episodes had a couple sketches where it all clicked so I'll keep watching.

e) "Alternatino With Arturo Castro"
Jaime from "Broad City"'s new sketch show is really, really funny. I'm always a little skeptical of sketch shows that have one or two stars that carry every sketch instead of a whole cast spreading the work around, but he's pretty incredibly versatile in terms of what he plays from sketch to sketch. And just the sheer range of concepts in the first few episodes is pretty impressive.

f) "Four Weddings And A Funeral"
Given Mindy Kaling's whole preoccupation with rom coms on "The Mindy Project," I'm not surprised that the next thing she'd make for Hulu would be a miniseries of the '90s rom com Four Weddings And A Funeral. The first episode even has a bit where people attend a costume party dressed as characters from classic rom coms (including Love Actually, which is kind of confusing since its director Richard Curtis also wrote Four Weddings). The whole thing really just falls flat, though -- not funny and not much romantic chemistry between the characters. I expected something at least passable given Kaling's track record and that a lot of the cast have been funny in other things. I don't watch "Game of Thrones" so I'd never really seen Nathalie Emmanuel in anything before, she's stunning but it's funny that they made her play an American character, her accent needs a litle work.

g) "Another Life"
My heart really went out to Selma Blair when she gave an interview about her MS diagnosis last year, I really missed seeing her in movies and was happy to hear that she'd be in this new Netflix series. She has kind of a small supporting role in "Another Life" but I'm intrigued to see where she fits into this weird story about an alien artifact landing on earth. The show's gotten pretty negative reviews so I'm kind of afraid the execution of the premise won't come together but I'm still curious to see where it goes.

h) "Pandora"
There's something especially sad to me about The CW's summer shows, like being in The CW's regular season schedule is not that high a bar so if you can't clear that, damn. I like the futuristic premise of "Pandora" but the name sucks and I don't feel like they got enough of an effects budget to make it look cool.

i) "One Spring Night"
A South Korean show on Netflix, felt like a very slow moving soap opera to me, probably wouldn't have found it very interesting even if I didn't have to read subtitles.

j) "Infinity Train"
Cartoon Network has been on such a roll lately, my whole family really enjoyed this 8-part miniseries, we all wish there were more episodes. It's a whole weird fantasy story where a girl ends up in an alternate universe populated by talking corgis, and at one point there's a whole setpiece involving Cameo's "Word Up," it's a really entertaining show.

k) "Where's Waldo?"
Just as I was recently complaining about the new Carmen San Diego series that completely abandons the premise of the old show, I'm amused that this show kind of does away with the point of the Where's Waldo? books and has this whole weird narrative where Waldo is a 'wanderer' being mentored by a wizard. I'm kind of surprised they're still trying to wring life out of the franchise, I haven't seen a kid look at a Where's Waldo? book in 20 years. But I did enjoy turning on the show for 5 seconds, pointing to Waldo and saying "There he is! This show sucks."

l) "Corn & Peg"
A few months ago I was on here ranting about how similar "Unikitty" and "Rainbow Butterfly Unicon Kitty" were, and here comes another new cartoon about a unicorn that's friends with a pegasus. Maybe there's just some kind of huge unicorn zeitgeist in the collective unconscious right now.

m) "BH90210"
A lot of people seem to have assumed that this is a revival of "Beverly Hills, 90210" with the original cast playing their characters again, which of course nobody needs. But it's worse than that: a trendy "Curb Your Enthusiasm"-style show where the actors play themselves trudging through their post-"90210" careers and reunite. I feel a very specific kind of embarrassment when actors who are not great at comedy try to be funny and play exaggerated unflattering versions of themselves. At least there was a nice little nod to Luke Perry in the first episode that felt sincere.

n) "Free Meek"
Putting together my Meek Mill deep album cuts playlist the week this show debuted was fun and kind of reminded me of just how much his discography centers on the issues he's only pretty recently gotten credit for bringing into public debate. It seems like they conceived this show and did most of the interviews during that 2017-2018 period when Meek's future was uncertain, so it doesn't have the same urgency now that it probably felt like it did at the time, but I'm still glad they made this and are using a different medium to tell Meek's story and further the conversation about the criminal justice system.

o) "Girls Cruise"
It's kind of hilarious how transparently VH1 just saw the success of Girls' Trip and rushed out a reality show loosely inspired by it, with Lil Kim going on a contrived group vacation with Mya and Chili from TLC. They kind of shoehorn social media celebrity B. Simone in there for comic relief, which is fine because at least she's trying to make the show entertaining while everyone is just kind of being boring and earnest.

p) "Lights Out with David Spade"
After 15 years of filling the post-"Daily Show" timeslot with spinoffs like "The Colbert Report," "The Nightly Show," and "The Opposition," Comedy Central has finally given up and reverted back to the "Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn" formula of half-assed panel discussion with an aging "SNL" guy at 11:30. It kind of amazes me how much David Spade seems to fail upward and show contempt for putting a minimal effort into being on television, just a total waste of once valuable TV real estate.

q) "The UnXplained"
A William Shatner-hosted History Channel show my wife have been watching a bit lately about famous mysteries and urban legends. The episode about the Goatman of Beltsville, Maryland really blew my mind, we live a few minutes away from there but somehow I'd never heard about it.

r) "Blown Away"
I'm amused that one of the side effects of there being so many shows on Netflix is that their reality competitions have gotten more and more niche, like this glass blowing competition show. It's a pretty interesting craft but it's just funny to see it done in a "Top Chef" type format. Also I'm very immature and amused that there's something they all have to call "the glory hole" with a straight face.

s) "Taco Chronicles"
Tacos are a very important topic to me, I appreciate seeing a docuseries give the subject the kind of loving attention it deserves. I gotta not watch it on an empty stomach, though, the al pastor episode really made me hungry.

t) "The Last Czars"
Amazon's "The Romanoffs" wasn't exactly about the Romanov family and was pretty bad, Netflix's docudrama "The Last Czars" is more directly about the Romanovs but is even more dull and mediocre. Tough run for a family that, er, has been through a lot already.

u) "Killer Affair"
One of those true crime shows on Oxygen, some interesting stories but not really my cup of tea.

v) "Murder In The Thirst"
This is BET's attempt at a true crime show in the vein of "Killer Affair," except it feels like it only exists as an excuse for the punny title and the host says "thirst" as often as possible to hammer home the tenuous concept of the title.

w) "Snowfall"
I tend to associate "Snowfall" with another FX drama co-starring Emily Rios, "The Bridge," that was on for two seasons a few years ago. But now "Snowfall" is in its 3rd season and has been renewed for a 4th so I'm like OK, this show has surpassed "The Bridge" and I shouldn't compare them too much. The third season had one of the more memorable death scenes I've seen in a while, wasn't graphic or anything, just really artful camera movement.

x) "Divorce"
I've never seen seasons of a show shrink from year to year like "Divorce," which went from 10 episodes to 8 episodes to 6 episodes for its third and final season. I suppose that's pretty unflattering given that Sarah Jessica Parker was once the queen of HBO. But it feels like a very small human-scale show that I've really come to enjoy, and it probably wouldn't make sense to do much more than 24 episodes about one couple's divorce.

y) "Killjoys"
My wife's perennial favorite SyFy show is wrapping up its run with its 5th season, it's really grown on me over the years. I feel like it's one of the rare sci-fi shows where the characters occasionally seem to acknowledge how bizarre the situations they're in are, they get a lot of comedy out of that. And Kelly McCormack's character Zeph has really become one of my favorite parts of the show this season.

z) "Veronica Mars"
"Veronica Mars" was the first show my wife got me into when we moved in together, so it feels very satisfying and nostalgic to watch the show's new 4th season together. Of all the revivals of long-canceled shows the last few years, this was the first one I actually actively looked forward to, and I'm happy to say that it's the first one other than "Twin Peaks" that wasn't crappy and unnecessary. The sex scenes felt kind of campy and tonally disconnected from the rest of the show and the last big plot twist was a bummer, but otherwise it was totally satisfying and I'd be thrilled if they came back for a 5th season. The whole gang from the original show all got some great moments and J.K. Simmons and Patton Oswalt contributed interesting characters to the story instead of just being gratuitous celebrity additions to the cast.