Box Set Special – The River, by Bruce Springsteen

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Released October 17, 1980

83 min, 47 sec

Coming from the musical triumphs of Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town back to back, Bruce Springsteen had established that he could do whatever he wanted for a little while. Born to Run marked the beginning of Springsteen’s turn from excitable hippie to representative of the working man; Darkness captured the raw essence of how the working man truly felt. As I noted when talking about Darkness a few years ago, Springsteen was in a dark, dark place when writing that album, and upon emerging from it with the supporting tour, Springsteen decided that he wanted to try and recapture his lighter, more fun-loving side.

The early recording of The River certainly reflects this pivot in Springsteen’s mindset. He wrote and recorded quickly, hammering away at new songs as well as songs that had first appeared during the Darkness sessions, songs like “The Ties That Bind,” “Independence Day,” and “Sherry Darling,” many of which premiered during the Darkness tour. The sessions through August 1979 yielded twenty-four songs; Springsteen, with a single album in mind at this point, pulled together ten for a tentative track list:

1. The Ties That Bind

2. The Price You Pay

3. Be True

4. Ricky Wants a Man of Her Own

5. Stolen Car

6. I Wanna Marry You

7. Loose Ends

8. Hungry Heart

9. The Man Who Got Away

10. Ramrod

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Already, at this point, darkness began to creep into The River, mainly through the appearance of “Stolen Car” as the Side 1 closer. But this track list clearly demonstrates Springsteen’s desire to release a lighter album, keeping himself above the shadowy corners of Darkness.

But Springsteen was dissatisfied and restless, and he continued recording through the next two months. At this point, the album’s emotional core began to emerge, particularly with the recording of “The River,” though Springsteen still pushed against the dichotomy of light-heartedness and heavy reality that he had yet to truly understand.

This struggle personifies The River, and Springsteen’s desire to illustrate all sides of rock as a genre was the primary motivating factor behind the album’s expansion into a twenty-track behemoth. At this point in time, however, Springsteen was still thinking and formatting the album in the mold of a single LP, determined to make his vision fit within its ten-track confines. He felt comfortable enough with the format that he submitted a single-LP album to Columbia Records in October 1979, with the title The Ties That Bind:

1. The Ties That Bind

2. Cindy

3. Hungry Heart

4. Stolen Car

5. Be True

6. The River

7. You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)

8. The Price You Pay

9. I Wanna Marry You

10. Loose Ends

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This was closer, but Springsteen felt that it wasn’t drastic enough, wasn’t big enough, just was not enough. The label began working on the album artwork and promotion, intending to have the album out before the end of the year. But after submitting it, Springsteen, ever the perfectionist, pulled the album back and began hammering away again.

The dichotomy between joy and sorrow, he felt, needed to be more explicit, needed to be more detailed. The framework of that split can be seen in The Ties That Bind, with “Hungry Heart” and “Stolen Car” in sequence one after the other, and with “The River” opening Side 2 immediately before the frankly inessential “You Can Look.”

It’s a little remarkable to see what didn’t make the cut at this stage of the album’s recording process – no “Ramrod,” no “Independence Day,” no “Point Blank.” The sheer depth of Springsteen’s songbook at this point of his career is astounding. He would just write and write and write, to the point that he would give away bona fide hits like “Because the Night” and “Fire” simply because he wasn’t interested in fitting them on one of his own albums. Springsteen’s signature prolific nature, combined with his dissatisfaction with the picture The Ties That Bind was painting, would eventually burst the dam of the single album format, spilling out into a double album in early 1980 as Springsteen continued to write and hone in on the sound and themes he was hoping to convey.

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Springsteen stated after the album’s release that he’d realized, during the production of The River, that contradiction and paradox are core tenets of rock music – the “frivolous next to the solemn,” as Wikipedia puts it. Rock music is about joy and partying and enjoyment of life, but it also illustrates hardship and despair. Springsteen’s goal with The River was to illustrate that dichotomy, to show both the party and what happens when all the guests leave, and the host only has himself for company. It was this desire that led to the emotional whiplash of “Two Hearts” leading into “Independence Day,” and the way Side 2 crashes down from “Crush on You” to title track “The River,” a song Springsteen wrote about his sister. “Crush on You” is inessential and tacky, but its mere presence causes “The River,” a song about accidental pregnancy forcing a couple to grow up too quickly and too soon, to resonate even more with its listeners than it would have if it stood alone.

The balance is delicate at times, and doesn’t always land right. Side 3 is a pretty good example of this – I’ve never really enjoyed the sequencing of “I’m a Rocker” into “Fade Away” into “Stolen Car.” It feels a little bit thrown together, as if Springsteen wasn’t really sure where these songs should sit on the record, just that they needed to make the cut. And a lot of the songs meant to illustrate the lighter side of the rock and roll life come off as inessential and filler-y, as if Springsteen had committed to a double album and needed to justify it. I understand their purpose, and in terms of serving the album’s core theme, they work, but as standalone songs, I’ve never enjoyed them, and it takes a lot of effort to not simply skip over them when listening to the album. It’s a little funny to me that Springsteen described some of them as his desire to capture the feel of his live shows, when the songs that really cemented him as a master of the live show were epics like “Backstreets” and “Jungleland,” with Springsteen giving his audience a tour through the heart of America, warts and all.

I’ve got a hearty list of favorites, though. “Independence Day” details Springsteen’s relationship with his father and the town they grew up in, vividly illustrating the inherent sadness his father fought with, enduring a changing of the times in the late 70s that carried over into the 80s. “The Ties That Bind,” “Sherry Darling,” and “Out in the Street” all convey a feeling of freedom, fleeting as it may be, that was so hard to grasp for the blue-collar worker in America in the 70s. “The River” is a classic, of course, but so is “Fade Away,” a powerfully melancholy song illustrating the loss of a love, who has moved on to someone better for her. But perhaps the strongest one-two punch of the entire album is “Drive All Night” into “Wreck on the Highway,” closing the album on the opposite note of the opening – once again embodying the two sides of rock music that Springsteen strove so hard to convey.  “Drive All Night” is dripping with despair, the protagonist fighting against a loss that feels inevitable from the start to the end, pierced through the middle by a haunting, wailing Clarence Clemons solo. “Wreck on the Highway” is the come-down, the quiet coda to the long journey of The River, focusing once more on a couple in the middle of America, contemplating the cruelty and callousness of the world around them.

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Perhaps The River’s sprawling nature is why it doesn’t feel as essential, as vital, to me. But it was massively successful, propelling Springsteen further and further into the American consciousness. The album produced standards like “Ramrod,” “Cadillac Ranch,” “Two Hearts,” and of course, the monstrously successful “Hungry Heart” – Springsteen’s only top-ten Billboard pop hit, which, like so many other songs, Springsteen hadn’t even written for himself. Manager Jon Landau convinced Springsteen to retain it, and after a remix that sped up the song and pitched Springsteen’s voice up, the song became The River’s breakout pop hit, and one of his biggest live show hits.

Funnily enough, the tour in support of The River was just as large and sprawling as its root album, with Springsteen returning to Europe for the first time since his ill-fated trip during the Born to Run tours. This tour also featured, until 2014, the longest show of Springsteen’s career, on New Year’s Eve 1980 (and leaking into the start of 1981), 38 songs over four hours. The River’s tour was, like Darkness and Born to Run before it, an escalation of the same tour structure that came before, with longer shows and a more grandiose presentation by Springsteen. Like its corresponding album, the tour isn’t talked about in the same reverent terms as Darkness, but, like pretty much every tour Springsteen has ever embarked on, it had more than enough iconic moments, including one of the first instances of political speech Springsteen had ever exhibited, at the November 5, 1980 show, the day after Ronald Reagan was elected President. Springsteen stated of the election, “I don’t know what you guys think about what happened last night, but I think it’s pretty frightening,” and followed that with a powerful, hectic rendition of “Badlands, a surprisingly strong political statement at the time.

Now then, what’s in the box?

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The River, like Born to Run and Darkness before it, received a deluxe reissue collection in an anniversary year, this time the 35th anniversary in 2015. The Ties That Bind: The River Collection uses The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story as its base, containing a remaster of The River in packaging that emulates the original vinyl release (though not as closely as previous reissues), a live show from the era, a documentary chronicling the making of the album, and a set of outtakes. Uniquely, The Ties That Bind separately packages the original Ties That Bind single album, providing fans a glimpse at what could have been.

The packaging is predictably gorgeous, held in a simply massive slipcase featuring an expanded version of The River’s album cover, the text left off to focus on the stark profile of Springsteen. The CDs and Blu-rays are packaged in a facsimile of a tour crate, alongside a reproduction of Springsteen’s River-era notebook (with lyrics to the outtakes printed and faux-stapled in), and a beautiful coffee-table style photo book filled to the brim with photos from the recording and subsequent tour.

Despite the expansive nature of The Ties That Bind – that’s becoming a pretty common theme here – I found it to be somewhat more lacking than The Promise. Part of this is the sheer level of mysticism and lore centered around Darkness and its enormous amount of outtakes that Springsteen saw fit to dish out as sparingly as he possibly could. Another part is that Springsteen apparently deemed a decent swath of River outtakes to be unfit for release, which, combined with the sizable amount of River outtakes previously released on Tracks in 1998, meant that Springsteen had to recycle a batch of “greatest hits” outtakes from the River era to fill out the outtakes CD. And it was a significant amount, amounting to the entire second half of the outtakes CD.

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Though it made sense why Springsteen filled it out in this manner – there was a standard of content quantity established by The Promise, and The River had already used nearly half of the songs written on the original album itself – it still felt like a bit of a letdown. But hey, we got a studio recording of “Paradise by the “C””, while I believe is the only instrumental track Springsteen has ever released, as well as highlights like “Meet Me in the City” and “Stray Bullet.”

The professional mix of the single album is also a curious listen, even if it had been available for decades as a bootleg in the exact sequence released in this box set. It’s a nice, unique nod to the evolution of The River’s recording process, and an interesting batch of tracks for the less obsessive fan.

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The River accomplished what it set out to do – it’s a sprawling collection of songs written at the height of Springsteen’s raw productivity, and provides a fascinating look into how Springsteen thought about the genre he worked in. At times it feels overly long, it drags for nearly an entire side, and the box set doesn’t quite match the heights set by The Promise, but The River is still easily an essential piece of the Springsteen canon, his first step forward as a true rock star, setting the stage for the rest of his career.

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More Springsteen: Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. | Born to Run | Darkness on the Edge of Town | Born in the U.S.A. | Live/1975-85 | Chimes of Freedom | Columbia Records Radio Hour | Blood Brothers EP | Devils & Dust | American Beauty

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Post Traumatic EP, by Mike Shinoda

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Released January 25, 2018

9 minutes, 35 seconds

Chester Bennington died on July 20, 2017.

Linkin Park released a formal statement five days later, alongside the launch of a tribute on their website. They redirected future donations to Music for Relief to a fund set up in memory of Chester. They announced a tribute concert, with dozens of guest musicians, which turned out to be the most memorable concert Linkin Park had ever performed.

Through it all, the five members of Linkin Park did what they could to cope. And as it turned out, Mike Shinoda, as he always had, turned to music to do that coping.

Post Traumatic is the first, and certainly not the last, result of that process.

This EP is grief in sonic form. All three tracks take on a different facet, centering on Shinoda’s attempts to process how he’s feeling, and what comes next when the walls come down and life is reduced to chaos.

In that regard, “Place to Start” is a soft, appropriate opener for the EP. Over a sparse, hazy beat, Shinoda laments how quickly everything he thought was safe could fall apart in an instant, distraught over the total lack of control he suddenly had over his life and livelihood. The corresponding video provides a strong visual aid, the song comprising of a single shot of Shinoda, the camera (his phone, most likely) pointing up from his chest, a bright sunbeam shining through the window. Shinoda is slouched over, barely able to get the words out.

The song concludes with a collage of voicemail messages, expressing condolences and statements from the callers that they were there if Shinoda needed anything. The video overlays this with lingering shots of his childrens’ rooms in Shinoda’s house – a bunk bed, bookshelves, bins of toys. The final shot is of two lanyards from the memorial show, an artistic rendering of Chester mid-song on them. The message of the song and video are clear – Chester is gone, and Shinoda has no idea how to move forward.

“Over Again” is the clear centerpiece of the EP, showing Shinoda’s transition from despondence to anger as he tries to put things back together and figure out the first step forward for himself and for Linkin Park. Though Bennington had been the (primary) voice of Linkin Park, and, as stated by many related to the band, the heart, Shinoda has always been the core of the band, providing the musical background and taking on the role of head decision-maker, particularly when Bennington was devoting time to his numerous side-projects (the most high-profile being his two years with Stone Temple Pilots, which coincided with the recording and release of The Hunting Party). At the point in time the song was written, Shinoda had been navigating the logistics of the memorial show for months, and the first verse is set just before the show is set to be played. Shinoda is fearful and unsure whether or not he can get through it, overwhelmed by the very prospect of playing another show.

The video, much like the song itself, is the clearest and strongest expression of Shinoda’s goal with this EP. The video is chaotic, filmed on Shinoda’s phone, and the first verse features an extreme close-up shot of Shinoda’s face as he raps through the first verse, his eyes manic, wearing the outfit he wore for the memorial show. The video feels like a stream of consciousness expression of Shinoda’s emotions, grainy, shaky. Shinoda stated that everything for the EP was done entirely by him, and it shows in the unrefined, raw nature of the videos.

The second verse, written and set just after the memorial concert, turns Shinoda’s rage outwards, lashing out at people questioning his grief and its authenticity, swinging back at the people prodding him for some sort of reaction, to express precisely how he was feeling. He mocks the attempts to sympathize with something that few people could understand, the feeling of losing a beloved friend and jeopardizing a career in one stroke. The video escalates alongside the song, the colors starting to blow out as the song progresses, Shinoda’s face covered in shadow and the grain of the footage, the camera growing shakier and shakier. Finally, as the final chorus starts, the colors invert, the camera shaking wildly, blurring and distorting the picture as the song builds to its conclusion, only settling once the outro concludes.

From this peak, the EP concludes with “Watching As I Fall,” as Shinoda moves past anger to exasperated frustration, continuing to grapple with how people perceive he should act. He’s fed up, but he doesn’t have the energy to lash out with anger any more. He doesn’t know what he can or should say or do; he only knows what he is saying, or is doing. That’s all he can offer, and that should be more than enough.

The video contains a lot of rapid cuts and random footage, much of it blurred and difficult to parse. It provides an interesting contrast considering how clearly structured the song itself is, providing another window into Shinoda’s psyche, transitioning from a straightforward delivery of the lyrics from Shinoda to him walking around his house, the camera shaking, as numerous cut-ins of other footage show Shinoda’s attempts to keep himself busy. The video concludes with animation over the final chorus and outro, drawn by Shinoda himself, a mix of shapes and art in his usual style, exploding back into vague, blown-out footage as the song closes out.

The video for “Watching As I Fall” contains a postscript, a short update video from Shinoda, filmed in December, discussing some of his recent thoughts and activities. The video, to me, seems to be a way to reassure fans, showing that, though Shinoda was still coping and dealing with the pain of loss, he was still okay, still functioning, still working, still enjoying life. As sad as the surrounding circumstances are, it’s good to see that Shinoda is still the same man he always has been.

This EP, frankly, is amazing to me. It’s such a powerful illustration of grief and the pain of loss, coming from a musician who somehow still seems to be underrated and underappreciated despite the incredible versatility he’s always demonstrated as an artist. Perhaps the best news to come out of this EP is the knowledge that Shinoda has much more music in his pocket, ready to be released essentially at any time. He stated in a Twitter Q&A on the day of the release that he wanted to gauge the response to the EP before committing to releasing more.

I worried about what Linkin Park would end up doing for a long time after the news of Chester’s death came. Would they break up? Continue as a five-piece, with Shinoda as the lead singer? Bring in guests, or, even, bring in someone new as a permanent replacement?

This EP doesn’t give any hints as to Linkin Park’s future. Shinoda has said that the band is still figuring out what their next step will be, but hinted that a breakup was not in the cards. And that’s fine by me – given what we know Shinoda is capable of as a solo artist, we’ll still have plenty of music from him while Linkin Park determines their future direction. It will take time, and they have plenty of it.

People handle loss in all kinds of different ways. There are endless coping mechanisms for grief, and everyone processes it in a different manner. As terrible as the circumstances are, we should be grateful that Mike Shinoda chose to continue making music in order to push his way through tragedy, because the end result is gorgeous, and a fantastic sign of things to come.

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Instagram, A to Z

I made an Instagram.

The idea behind it is to show off my colored vinyl collection, but I’ll probably alternate between those and regular vinyl to pad out the posts. There’ll probably be one every couple of days until I get tired of it. There’ll generally also be a blurb about the album on each post, so it’s like a miniature iTunes, A to Z post each time because god knows I can’t handle posting here regularly.

I’ll have a 2018 goals post up once I actually feel the motivation to do it. Apologies for the sudden silence this past year after promising more – my creativity and desire to write ebbs and flows pretty strongly, even after I did a hard reset of my brain to try and loosen up, and not think of everything I write in terms of what I can get out of it. That didn’t really extend to this blog, however, and I got pretty demotivated after writing two obituaries in a row of two childhood hero musicians.

But I’m definitely thinking about this blog, and figuring out some sort of thing to do with it. Maybe even just once a month could be enough. I’ll figure it out.

In the meantime, enjoy aesthetic posts on Instagram.

One More Light

 

This one…this one really hurts.

Childhood idols shouldn’t be dead at 41.

I’ve talked, at length, about the influence that Linkin Park had on me as a child and early teenager. Linkin Park was my musical awakening, the first band that I latched onto and said “Yeah, this is my favorite.” Hybrid Theory and Meteora became a soundtrack for middle school and early high school years that, in retrospect, were overblown on a personal level, though there was plenty of legitimate anger and angst to be had. (Everyone always says that about themselves.)

Linkin Park was the first band I was a fan of that felt like they were my contemporaries. They hadn’t been around for 30 years like Rush, or even 10+ years like Green Day, or 20 years like Metallica. Linkin Park hit the scene in 2000, when I was 7, old enough to at least passively absorb the things I heard and remember them as parts of the pop culture that I grew up in. And I became a fan at, in my opinion, just the right time – when Linkin Park took a permanent pivot away from surface-level nu-metal and started really drilling down into figuring out the kind of music they wanted to make, independently of label and fan expectations. And though it has been a very long time since I’ve had a feeling of true excitement regarding something Linkin Park-related, being a hardcore fan through the Minutes to Midnight, A Thousand Suns, and even LIVING THINGS eras was something I’ll always value and cherish.

I thought Linkin Park would last forever. As a young teen, I thought it would be because they were rock gods. As an adult, I figured that their core fanbase would provide enough support for them to keep doing literally whatever sort of music they felt like doing, with a new album every few years for the next forty years. Chester Bennington and the rest, in their 70s, still somehow belting out “One Step Closer.”

Instead, this.

Right now, it’s too fresh. No statement. No indicator what the future will hold for the band, in the wake of Chester’s suicide by hanging. How could there be? Is there even any filling in of such a massive void? This is a band that, for eighteen years, had one line-up, with only temporary hiccups in the early years. By 2001, the line-up that played their final show on July 6, 2017 was fully formed. Sixteen years of the same six men, in the studio, on stage together. I cannot even begin to imagine what you would do next.

And today, Chris Cornell would have been 53 years old. I don’t think that’s just cruel irony, either.

But it’s still time for another round of questions without answers, grasping at reason, trying to make sense of it. “How could a man with millions, an iconic, multimillion unit selling band, a wonderful wife, and six kids not see the good in the world? In his life?”

There’s no answer. None that will ever be satisfactory, at least. If it was depression, then depression has claimed yet another innocent victim. If it was something else, maybe we’ll find out some day. For now, we’re all left holding our questions, while the band and Chester’s family are left holding a void.

But what a career and legacy to leave behind. Linkin Park was utterly gigantic, an inescapable behemoth of rock radio, in the early 2000s. Singles from Hybrid Theory and Meteora were ubiquitous. “In the End,” “Somewhere I Belong,” “One Step Closer,” “Numb,” the list goes on and on. Bona fide hit parades, those two albums. And there are still radio gems across the rest – “Leave Out All the Rest,” “What I’ve Done,” “Bleed it Out,” “Iridescent,” “Burn it Down.” And not to mention that Chester had the opportunity of a lifetime – to step into Scott Weiland’s shoes and lead the band he worshipped as a child, Stone Temple Pilots. For two magical years, Chest got to live a lifelong dream, and was such a successful musician that he had to leave because he had a bigger band he had to put his attention on. Imagine having to leave Stone Temple Pilots because you could only make your schedule work with one worldwide giant of a band. And Dead by Sunrise was fine, too.

It’s hard to get through this, honestly. Maybe it’s because it’s still fresh news to me, or maybe it’s because Linkin Park was so much closer to my heart than Chris Cornell’s work, but this hurts much, much worse.

I do know this: I will always cherish the memories I have of Linkin Park. As the genesis of my musical taste, they will always hold a special place in my heart, no matter how old I get, no matter how many times I look back and think “my god, that’s embarrassing.” When things come to an end like this…all of that other shit seems so small. It doesn’t matter what the public perception of Linkin Park was, how the band became a meme and a synonym for the sort of edgy preteen who doesn’t really understand how embarrassing their behavior is. The epitome of “It’s not a phase, MOM.” None of that matters right now.

What matters is, for all of those kids, all of those teenagers, even if they reminisce and laugh at themselves, how the smallest of things meant the world was ending to them, they’ll always be able to hold on to the idea that there was a band out there they could relate to. A band that sang about the same things they were thinking and feeling. Everyone needs music they can hear themselves in, because it becomes a comfort, a safe zone. The world might not get it, but at least these guys did. The value of that is immeasurable.

I only ever saw Linkin Park live once; incidentally, it was the same tour in which I saw Chris Cornell for the only time, Projekt Revolution 2008, in West Palm Beach, Florida. The early experience of seeing my favorite band perform live was transformative. I still have the professional recording of the show, straight from the band. Maybe it’s time to listen to it again.

A lot of songs become…difficult…to listen to, in retrospect, but there’s a lot to love in Linkin Park’s catalogue, and it’s worth it to indulge your inner teen, even just for a little while. There will likely never be another band like Linkin Park again, and certainly not a guy like Chester Bennington.

To close out, a video. Linkin Park performed on Jimmy Kimmel shortly after Chris Cornell’s death, playing “One More Light,” the title track of their most recent album, as a tribute to him. Eerie as it may be, it ends up being a very fitting tribute for Chester himself.

Who cares if one more light goes out?

I do.

Songbook, by Chris Cornell

The first time I heard Chris Cornell’s voice was on an Audioslave CD my dad gave me in 2006.

I might have heard “Black Hole Sun” on the radio before that, actually. But when I was a kid, the radio didn’t play songs from specific artists – it was just a magic box that spit out music constantly. I couldn’t absorb very much from it back then, only that I loved everything I heard. So, when I have my true musical awakening – which I discussed in the Minutes to Midnight post – that signaled a shift in how I perceived music, and for the first time I could truly attach myself to individual bands and artists and declare myself a fan. And, as I said in that post, Audioslave was in the top five from the start.

The wacky guitar gimmicks. The consistency and impressive melding of the bass and drums. And that voice – wailing, screeching, threatening to tear itself apart over everything. Chris Cornell was in a bad state during the recording of Audioslave, but even in a bad state, ravaged by drinking, smoking, and whatever the fuck else Chris did in the time between Soundgarden and Audioslave, he was ethereal. Unique. A truly absurd vocal range and a sharp ear for interesting music, no amount of substance abuse could fully suppress Chris’s creativity and natural talent. And he continued to demonstrate his multi-faceted musical talent that first began to emerge at the end of Soundgarden’s first life, moving from psychadelic grunge to adapting Rage Against the Machine’s rap-rock instrumentals – without the rap, of course – to the more alternative, nuanced style of Out of Exile and Revelations, until the tensions between himself and the former components of Rage simply could not continue together.

And then it was back to an on-again, off-again solo career. 1999’s Euphoria Morning was an interesting departure for Chris, with a heavy acoustic lean that still indulged in Chris’s favorite lyrical subjects. Grunge softened, morphed and merged with a more classic kind of hard, adult rock. But his solo career, which Chris was ready and primed for, was put back on the shelf when Audioslave came calling. In 2007, with Carry On, came another kind of shift, the feeling that it was a natural evolution of Chris’s solo style, now incorporating the alternative sound he’d learned from Audioslave. And who could forget the Bond theme, probably one of the best of the modern Bond run. Another big swing at making it as a solo artist, now that two bands were in the books behind him.

I try not to think about Scream most of the time, but what it demonstrated to me was that Chris had no fear, musically. The idea of a grunge god producing an entire album with a hip-hop producer, even one as well known as Timbaland, was laughable. And the album that resulted is, kindly, a mistake. It’s a good lesson in understanding that you probably shouldn’t pursue every idea that comes into your head, particularly when it has as big a chance to fail as Scream did. But by god, he did it anyway. That’s impressive to me. And the songs, when freed of their awful, uncharacteristic production, can work quite well – listen to the “rock version” of “Long Gone,” or the acoustic version of “Ground Zero” from this very album, Songbook, and you’ll hear the strength of the lyrics and song structures. They’re just not electronic pop tracks.

It’s interesting to me that Chris couldn’t stay solo for very long at any point in his career. You’d think that a musician as independent and creative as he was – his solo albums are really strong – would be able to do just fine on his own. But maybe the shadow of Soundgarden stood too tall over him. It never seemed like people ever talked about Chris Cornell as a solo act, only in the context of being a compelling, vital frontman. Maybe he rushed too quickly into Audioslave, rendering Euphoria Morning a curiosity in his discography rather than the starting point it was intended to be. In any case, his second foray into solo work lasted about as long as the first, when Soundgarden came calling for a successful resurrection.

But even with Soundgarden back to pay the bills – or perhaps because Soundgarden was back, and, aside from a revitalized musical output for the four of them, provided steady income – Chris was allured by solo work. He did a set of solo acoustic tours, usually under the “Songbook” header, and the first tour in 2011 is where this live album came from. And I promise I’m going to get to the album. But I’ve got some stuff to say before that.

There’s no good way to shoehorn it in, but Higher Truth is where Chris should have gone directly after Carry On. It’s a quieter album than Carry On, kind of a cross between that album and Euphoria Morning, but it’s just as strong, maybe even stronger, than any solo work he’d done before. It made sense to me that he would pursue it, even with Soundgarden attempting to put together another album – Chris needed the outlet and it was worth it to put Soundgarden on hold while he finished the album.

But now, that Soundgarden album may never be finished. Chris Cornell is gone, reportedly by his own hand. The sun is dimmer today.

I don’t want to talk about any motivation, not this soon, not this early, when the report was just released a few hours ago, as of posting time. It makes me uncomfortable. I spent the entire day asking why, and I have no answers. You could look at his subject matter – Chris was fond of writing about death, dying, passing on. But I would hesitate to call that indicative of his mindset, when it’s been his bread and butter for so long. Celebrities like Chris have a different face in public, and it shouldn’t be used as a barometer of his true feelings, but he seemed so content in recent years. Soundgarden was rolling, a successful reunion that actually produced new, good music. He had the freedom to do whatever he wanted even with Soundgarden being more or less constantly active since their reunion, and he used that freedom liberally, remaining active on his own the entire time. He released a new charity single just two months ago.

When you look at it that way, it’s difficult to understand. I think we will understand, in time. But it’s unimaginably sad to me. I want to know why, now. I want to understand, now.

You look at the big four of the Seattle grunge movement – Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam – and you see that three of the four frontmen are now dead. How lonely Eddie Vedder must feel today.

Temple of the Dog reformed, a one-off tribute band brought back into the public eye, for the 25th anniversary of their only album last year. Temple of the Dog was formed by Chris to memorialize Andrew Wood, frontman of Mother Love Bone, who died of a heroin overdose. Perhaps Vedder, who only contributed a little bit to Temple of the Dog, will memorialize Chris the same way.

I only saw Chris Cornell live one time, probably at the nadir of his musical relevance (and I do mean that kindly, but sincerely), in 2008, on the Projekt Revolution tour, the co-headliner next to Linkin Park. I’ll admit that I barely remember anything about the concert – I was 15, I was there for Linkin Park, the openers were just bonuses – but it sticks with me that that was the only chance I took to see him, now more than ever. I had my other opportunities – in 2012 during the first Songbook tour, and in 2014 when Soundgarden was touring with Nine Inch Nails – and I passed on both of them. “He’ll be around again,” I said, both times. I really wanted to see a Songbook show, but I willingly said “not this time.” And now there won’t be another time.

I’m going to think about that a lot.

As much as I enjoy Chris’s solo albums, and of course his work with Soundgarden and Audioslave, there’s no album of his that I love more than the live Songbook album. It’s the greatest hits retrospective he never did – not commercially, anyway – that strips away everything and puts Chris’s voice at the forefront, his greatest creation. It reveals him as the powerful singer and deft songwriter that he always has been. You look at the track list and it’s hit after hit after hit – “Call Me a Dog,” “Can’t Change Me,” “Fell on Black Days,” “Like a Stone,” and of course “Black Hole Sun.” The deeper cuts – “I Am the Highway,” “Scar on the Sky,” “All Night Thing,” the never-professionally-recorded “Cleaning My Gun.” The two smartly-chosen covers of “Thank You” and “Imagine.” And even the new track, “The Keeper,” to close out the album. Songbook is the retrospective to listen to today, and next week, and whenever you think of Chris Cornell and you just want to hear the man belt out some tunes. I don’t think there’s a bad song on here – even the opener, curious Scream hidden track “As Hope and Promise Fade,” is still a compelling listen here.

Chris gives a bit of insight into a couple of the songs, and his mindset when writing them. “Ground Zero” is preceded by the message that anger and hatred will not fix the horrors of September 11, while Chris explains on “Can’t Change Me” that it was the last song written for the album, which to me seems like a common theme for successful lead singles. You even get a bit of humor – “Imagine” is preceded by Chris noting that it’s a “good Easter song,” playing it the day before Easter that year. Of course, the Christian-friendly line “Nothing to kill or die for / and no religion too.”

There will never be another Chris Cornell. A one of a kind figure, an amazing songwriter with a generational voice. Soundgarden was the first grunge band to break into the mainstream, and though Pearl Jam is the most successful and revered of them – and they, alongside Nirvana, will likely be the only two of the big four enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – Soundgarden’s place in history can never be forgotten. And though Chris’s second and third acts, with Audioslave and with his solo career, will certainly not be as fondly remembered as his work in Soundgarden, when taken as a whole, Chris has had a career stronger and more important than most in rock history, securing him in the upper echelon of rock musicians for all time.

It will take time for us to know the full extent of what happened in that hotel room in Detroit. We may never know or understand why Chris did what he did, what he was feeling that night, and in the time leading up to it. If it was depression – and Chris had talked about suffering from depression in the 1990s – then the disease has claimed another life it never deserved to take. If it was something else, perhaps we will know in time. Perhaps we will have the knowledge to understand Chris in a way that we didn’t understand him in life. Regardless, it is a massive loss, for the music community, for the world, and for the pantheon of heroes I had, as a child and as an adult.

Say hello to heaven, Chris. Blow the doors down.

100-songbook

Released November 21, 2011

1 hr, 13 min

call the police / american dream, by LCD Soundsystem

99-callthepolice

Released May 5, 2017

14 min

So this is why LCD Soundsystem came back.

I wondered what their plan was when James Murphy first announced – and pre-emptively apologized for – the band’s return early last year. It always seemed to me like Murphy put the band to rest far earlier than he may have needed to, given that the band had just released its best album in 2010, and were at perhaps the peak of their popularity. Maybe that scared him, and he needed to go away for a while and figure out what he really wanted to do with the rest of his life. This doesn’t have any basis in facts or anything like that – I don’t think he’s really talked about why LCD Soundsystem stopped existing for five years.

But they’re back, with a Christmas single being the herald of a new era of the band, released on December 24, 2015, before anyone knew (for sure, anyway) that the band was working on a full return to activity. LCD Soundsystem spent 2016 on the festival circuit, celebrating their return while quietly working on a new record. A band as revered as LCD certainly doesn’t need to record an album to justify their existence, but, as I mentioned earlier, it always felt like James Murphy had far more to give to us than he did during the band’s first run, and now we’re finally seeing that, as two actual singles expected to be from the new album surfaced, in the double A-side of “call the police” and “american dream.”

The dichotomy is interesting, almost like a cohesive primer on the band. “call the police” is a fast-driving rocker, bright and upbeat musically, but with an undercurrent of melancholy throughout the lyrics as Murphy struggles to be heard above the cacophony of instrumentation below him. It reminds me a lot of “All My Friends,” one of LCD Soundsystem’s best songs in their catalogue, and absolutely my favorite. They both barrel forward on instrumentation that threatens to sweep Murphy away before he can say his piece, and he finally gets it all out by shouting above the noise. It’s a very Sound of Silver-era song, I think, and it’s the side of LCD Soundsystem that I’ve always loved the most, even if I think This is Happening is a better album.

By contrast, “american dream” is a synth-driven slow dance, with the signature melody being a haunting, dripping rhythm that feels like you’re being surrounded. The song has a clear narrative, following the protagonist (whose actions are being described by Murphy throughout the song) and describing their feelings of inadequacy as they trudge through their life, those feelings infecting everything they do, describing the experience as a real American dream. It could easily be an autobiographical song, and Murphy is certainly no stranger to writing songs of that nature, but it also feels like a very modern analysis of life in 2017, particularly in the sort of big city where Murphy made his name and his home. He could have easily seen this story any number of times around him.

This is LCD Soundsystem distilled down to its essence – soaring punk/rock, heavy doses of electronica, either standalone or mixed in, and diagnoses of what it’s like to be human today. LCD Soundsystem has never been a band of big ideas and navel-gazing – James Murphy is far more concerned with what he can see in front of him, and sharing those feelings with whoever’s willing to listen. And there are many, many people willing to listen, hanging on every word, anxiously awaiting the day when, for the first time in seven years, they can wake up to the joy of a new LCD Soundsystem album.

Grammys 2017 Postmortem

This is a day late, sure, but look how much I wrote. My fingers hurt. Give me a break. And yeah, I know I haven’t written anything in six months. I’m a working man.

The Grammys have come and gone once again, the 59th edition of what the Academy likes to puff up as “Music’s Biggest Night.” What does that mean? Usually an Adele performance, old artists winning Best New Artist because the Grammys have stupid arbitrary rules for determining that category, and non-white artists being shoved into their own, neatly-segmented categories while white artists dominate the big categories. We got a couple of those again this year, but, as always, there was plenty that shined through the shit.

Some performance notes, then:

– Politically tepid, for the most part. Several presenters made bland platitudes about the importance of equality, without really touching on the most important reasons to emphasize equality in our current time. That was, of course, until A Tribe Called Quest, with Anderson.Paak, Consequence, and Busta Rhymes of all people, rolled up and tore down the wall of sanitary comments and excessive niceness. Q-Tip repeatedly declared Donald Trump to be “President Agent Orange,” as ATCQ barreled through a medley of several politically-charged songs from We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, which came out just a few months ago. They brought up a procession of immigrants to the stage to show the kind of people that Trump’s executive order was shutting out – people who deserve to be in America, the land of the free, because America’s borders shouldn’t be arbitrarily shut (though we know it’s not arbitrary). They even had a makeshift wall on stage to burst through. Powerful and important.

And Anderson.Paak was behind the kit for a couple minutes! That was rad.

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Kevin Winter/Getty

– Lukas Graham is a fine singer but his performance with Kelsea Ballerini was the perfect representation of the Grammys slapping two artists together because they’re kind of similar and they hope they can work out a good collaboration. This was pretty boring. There were a few other collaborative performances, like Alicia Keys and Maren Morris, which was fine, and Gark Clark, Jr. and William Bell performing “Born Under a Bad Sign” together, which was the usual Gary Clark, Jr. guitar showcase, but this time backing up a wonderful vocal performance from a music legend.

– I was very, very interested in Metallica/Gaga, and what I get for my troubles is a fucking trainwreck. Now, this isn’t necessarily the fault of Metallica and Gaga – I assume they’re responsible for the tasteless stage design, but that’s fine. No, the Grammys continue to demonstrate that, despite being the premier venue for multiple performances on several stages in the span of three hours, they are still able to fuck things up, as James Hetfield’s microphone was completely non-functional for the entire first verse and chorus of “Moth into Flame.” I was really looking forward to this, and Gaga’s vocals provided an interesting dimension to the song, but it was only half a song until Hetfield realized his mic was off, and he had to share Gaga’s mic instead until his came back online. Started off on the wrong foot and never really got going, a real miss for Metallica. At least they’ll have that bizarrely awesome Lang Lang collaboration from a couple years ago.

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– Ed Sheeran’s live looping to create his own beat was an impressive technical backdrop for his usual pop garbage. I feel pretty sure that the backing track eventually switched to a pre-recorded one, but if it didn’t, then wow, he really did something great here. Wish it had been for, you know, a good song.

– The Bee Gees should be offended by the “tribute” offered here. It was a smashed-together mess with a bunch of people no one cares about, that mashed together a bunch of songs in a way no one wanted to here. And they said it was also a Saturday Night Fever 40th anniversary tribute…? Try again. And never invite John Travolta back to the Grammys ever again.

– Speaking of Travolta – specifically, the performance he introduced after rambling about some nonsense for a couple minutes – the Grammys showed that country is both dead and not dead at the same time. Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban presented the latest assassination of a once-proud mainstream genre, performing a literal synthpop country disaster with the backdrop of going through the Time Vortex if you were also on acid. I understand that traditional country isn’t mainstream any more, and that the continuing forward march of pop into every other genre around it has morphed radio country into something entirely different. But this was just awful. You wouldn’t even know it was country if you weren’t being assaulted by Keith Urban’s awful accent. Carrie Underwood continues to just sort of exist to put out these asinine performances every year.

– But on the other end of the spectrum, Sturgill Simpson delivered a gorgeous rendition of “All Around You,” backed by the Dap-Kings, the powerful backing band of now-passed-on Sharon Jones. This wasn’t necessarily “traditional” country either, but Sturgill Simpson takes pride in the genre he represents, and as probably one of the least mainstream artists on the show (sorry Chance), he delivered a heartfelt, full-throated performance that would have made Sharon Jones, and Johnny Cash, proud.

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Kevin Winter/Getty

– The big tribute section this year was to Prince, himself a larger-than-life figure that always seemed willing to bring himself down to the level of the Grammys. He received a strong two-part tribute, with The Time and Bruno Mars performing separately and then together. The Time in particular were a huge treat to watch – Morris Day’s voice is electric, and his synchronized dance sequences with Jerome were a real spectacle. And then, of course, Bruno Mars rolls out, in full Prince regalia, with what I’d hope is a replica of a quintessential Prince guitar, and demonstrated that, in addition to the eight million talents he already has, shredding out a Prince solo is one of them too. It wasn’t a technical masterpiece – obviously Bruno isn’t Prince on the six-string – but it was clear that Bruno put a lot of effort into making it sound good and look great, and he delivered. He had another performance earlier in the show, which was exactly what you’d expect from Bruno Mars – retro pop and great dance moves. Another traditional Grammys setpiece, but a fun one.

– James Corden was great when he hosted the Tonys last year. The Grammys? Not so much. He’s at least capable of showing emotion, unlike LL Cool J, who appeared to be a robot created for the sole purpose of saying words between segments that no one was really listening to. But Corden at times appeared to try and emulate the sort of host that makes themselves too much a part of the show, from his fall down the stairs to open the show, to rapping his opening monologue, to the gross jokes about his parents having young people to fuck separately. He seemed out of his element, which isn’t a good look for any host, but especially not for James Corden, who’s still establishing himself in the States. Maybe next year he’ll be better – if LL Cool J’s eternal reign as Grammys host is any indication, he’ll have plenty of tries.

– Katy Perry premiered a new song featuring all of the anti-tech, anti-Internet baby boomer bullshit that absolutely should not be coming out of Katy Perry’s mouth. Who is the target audience here? Kids who are determined to deny their own identities in the interests of appeasing crusty old fucks who can’t be swayed? What was the point of this song? Who hurt you, Katy? Was it Left Shark? Have we misread him this entire time?

At least the white picket fence turned into a bunch of dancers. That was a cool gimmick for a shit song.

– The Weeknd performed with Daft Punk, whose primary contribution was to stand on top of a retro-futuristic glacier mountain and press buttons on some synths while The Weeknd turned in a typically great vocal performance. I’m sure this was a dream come true for him, as his profile continues to rise as a powerful pop musician. But the visual spectacle was lacking.

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty

– Pentatonix has achieved true mainstream penetration. We will see them perform at every music show imaginable for the rest of our lives, at least until it’s revealed that one of them has been perpetually on heroin for the past five years and it destroys them. One can hope.

– The In Memorium segment is always a sad one, but luckily, 2016’s whirlwind of destruction was split between last year’s Grammys and this year’s, lessening the blow when it came time to run the montage. Imagine Prince and Bowie being in the same one. My God.

I found it curious that Prince received neither first (that went to Leonard Cohen) nor last (George Martin, for some reason) billing in the montage. You could argue that Martin had a more substantial impact on music by way of the Beatles, but Prince’s contributions were far more direct, and I think he would’ve warranted first or last billing. Instead, he was second, which is close, but not enough. Perhaps they believed they’d paid the man his due with Bruno Mars earlier. They would be wrong.

This was John Legend’s annual contribution to the Grammys, by the way, doing a Beach Boys cover. “Hallelujah” would’ve been a bit much, I guess. But I will say that including Cynthia Erivo, from the current stage revival of The Color Purple, was a nice gesture to remind people (including the Grammys) that hey, musicals are music, too.

Kevin Winter/Getty

And the big three:

– Adele’s voice is gorgeous. Once in a generation. The most successful artist of the digital era, and the only artist to have a diamond-selling record since 2004. Twice. Yes, Adele has to be at the Grammys, and yes (as we’ll cover shortly), she’ll sweep, so you should feature her a couple times.

But Adele standing in the dark belting out a track is boring. Especially when the song is over a year old. So when you open the show with the customary Adele performance, it’s not exactly the electric way to start a show that desperately needs electricity. Adele’s gimmick, to put it crassly (she’s certainly genuine about it) is that she’s a regular woman, a regular mother, who happens to be the best singer in decades. So when you stick her in the middle of a blank stage with nothing but a live video feed of her own damn face to perform with, it comes off a little bit robotic, like “hey, this is Adele, press the button and hear her sing!” Now, I’ll say right now that I don’t have any alternative ideas. But I’m not putting together the show, so I don’t have to. Bite me.

And by contrast, of course, Adele’s tribute to George Michael later in the show – a slow, orchestral rendition of “Fastlove” – demonstrated the human side of her. Adele is just like us – she loves good music, she’ll cry about it on national television if she wants, she’ll stop a performance and drop the f-bomb if she feels like it. Perhaps having war flashbacks to her last Grammys performance that sounded awful, Adele detected something wrong early in the song, cut it off, and pleaded forgiveness while instructing the backing orchestra to restart. She then delivered the powerful, heartfelt vocal performance that is the hallmark of a true Adele show. This was far, far better.

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Kevin Winter/Getty

– Concerns that the Grammys were simply riding the wave of Chance the Rapper’s mainstream success to puff out their chests and proclaim “We recognize indie talents now please keep watching!!!!” are certainly warranted. Chance has transcended his roots in a way that’s unimaginable, and it would be absurd of the Grammys to ignore that and bar Coloring Book from the recognition it and Chance himself deserves. But let’s set that aside for now and just bask in the glory that is Chance the Rapper delivering an unabridged, unchained show that showed the country what Chance is all about. This is exactly what I was hoping for – a medley of “How Great” and “All We Got” with parts of “No Problems” and “Blessings” sprinkled throughout, Chance’s cousin Nicole giving a full-throated rendition of the choral piece that opens “How Great,” Chance delivering a sermon at the mic, barely able to keep his emotions in check as he chokes his way through his verses, bursting into jubilance as the performance transitions to “All We Got” (no Kanye and no Jay Electronica, though; that’s fine). A true mic drop moment.

Chance has watched his notoriety grow exponentially in the past calendar year, starting with SNL alongside Kanye, through “Summer Friends” on the Today Show, and all the way to the Grammys to accept three awards and perform the songs that the Grammys wouldn’t have even recognized a year ago. Through all of these, it would be incredibly easy to be overwhelmed by the sizes of the stages, and Chance certainly performs as if he’s perpetually in awe of just how far he’s come. But he’s always in control, he’s always having fun, and he’s always pulling up whoever he can reach when he performs on these huge stages. Peter Cottontale is always right behind him. Nico Segal is around the corner. His performance this year opened not with him, but with his cousin Nicole. Chance knows who helped him get to this point, and he’s so, so determined not to leave anyone behind as the waters continue to raise him higher and higher. And he still hasn’t charged a dime for a single song he’s put out himself.

How great, indeed.

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Kevin Winter/Getty

– When Beyoncé announced her pregnancy in the most Beyoncé way possible, you knew you would be in for a treat if she performed at the Grammys. And why the fuck would she not perform at the Grammys after putting out yet another powerful, biting representation of feminism and femininity in Lemonade? But I don’t think anyone expected this – Beyoncé, appearing to be a golden goddess, stomach bare, exalting the power of motherhood, proudly displaying three generations of Knowles women, en route to a performance of Lemonade’s “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles,” two of the most-forgiving, open songs from the album.

I’ll admit that I was tripped out by the opening, a pre-filmed video that at times depicted Beyoncé as a multi-armed deity underneath a spoken-word introduction to her performance. I wasn’t sure where it was going, and I briefly thought that this pre-recorded bit might be it. But then she appeared, took her seat, and blew the house down. Once again, much as she did with the surprise release of Beyoncé in 2013, Beyoncé demonstrated that she is untouchable, the most prominent mix of art and success I’ve seen in music in a very long time. Nothing can stop her, and nothing will.

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Kevin Winter/Getty

Shortly, about who wasn’t there:

– Kanye West and Frank Ocean both publicly announced that they would not be participating in the Grammys. Kanye, fine. The Life of Pablo received some individual nominations and came home with none, and Kanye, emotional as he can be about Grammys, is still laying low and trying to recover from the strain of the cut-short Saint Pablo tour. I think it’s fine that he didn’t show up.

Frank, however, was not content to simply not show up. He didn’t submit Blonde (or Endless) for consideration at all, and noted that while the Grammys had “nostalgic value” to him, he had no interest in giving the Grammys the satisfaction of including him, when it was such a poor institution for representing diversity in music. Remember, this is the institution that actively had Macklemore & Ryan Lewis sweep the hip-hop categories in 2014, over, you know, Kendrick fucking Lamar.

So, apparently butthurt, the Grammy producers decided to engage in some public speculation about why Frank really wasn’t showing up, offering up the “unsatisfying” 2013 performance of “Forrest Gump” as evidence. They said that Frank hadn’t been satisfied with how the production of “Forrest Gump” had gone, and how the performance itself wasn’t necessarily up to snuff, that Frank’s ideas weren’t technically feasible and were hard to realize for the show, leaving Frank bitter about the experience and the Grammys in general.

This, frankly, is asinine and shockingly childish for producers of a major awards show. They really just said that Frank was being childish about his performance, and that’s why he was saying the things he was saying. This is mind-numbingly tone-deaf.

Frank, of course, wouldn’t let these people have the last word, and dropped a Tumblr post tearing into the producers, openly dismissing his performance at the show as “shit,” and saying it didn’t matter because he didn’t need the institution of the Grammys for validation. He noted Blonde being a million-seller without a label behind it, and said that he didn’t need the Grammys to validate his success. He also noted 1989’s win over To Pimp a Butterfly for Album of the Year in 2016, a move that was lambasted by hip-hop critics as being a clear indicator of the Grammys putting commercial success far above artistic integrity. He ended the post by lambasting the Grammys’s cultural bias and lack of ability to retain a young audience, a mic drop if I’ve ever seen one.

Frank makes good points in this post – the Grammys, despite their diverse performers and attempts to recognize hip-hop, R&B, and blues properly, are still more than willing to put a white artist above a black artist, even if the black artist’s work is more deserving of a given award. See: fun. winning Best New Artist over Frank in 2013. Yes, I’m still bitter about that, and no, I’ll never let it go. There are countless examples, and whether they’re rooted in cultural bias, as Frank suggests, or simple ignorance isn’t quite clear. But it’s been a problem for decades and it will continue to be a problem. You could argue that the best way for Frank to enact change would be to contribute and put on the best performance he can, to show what black artists are capable of, but I believe that abstaining is just as strong a message, so long as he’s loud about it.

– Semi-related: Macklemore was not at the show and didn’t submit This Unruly Mess I’ve Made for Grammy consideration this year. And you know it was his personal decision because he’s independent. Was he really that shaken by the backlash to his sweeping of the hip-hop categories last time, or did he know that he wouldn’t win anything this year with a mediocre follow-up? Who can say?

And a few notes about the actual awards:

– Twenty One Pilots dropped trout when they won the Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group performance. Like, actually. They pulled their pants off, ran up on stage, and explained that they promised to do this several years ago, before they’d had any success, watching the Grammys on tv with their pants off. Full circle, I guess.

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I’m confident enough in myself to admit that I have both of Twenty One Pilots’s major label albums. I like to indulge in garbage sometimes. We all do. Don’t even pretend you haven’t spun “Guns for Hands” or “Holding Onto You” or any of the eight thousand singles from blurryface. This is what My Chemical Romance would’ve been if they formed in the 2010s. This is modern emo, folks. It’s what the emos love these days.

Do emos still exist? What about scene kids?

God damn I feel old.

– Bowie won Best Rock Song for “Blackstar”, which is a gross oversimplification of Bowie, but there it is. Up there with “Best Metal Performance” for Nine Inch Nails. Also, the Chainsmokers (kill me) just sort of held onto the Grammy because no one was there to represent Bowie, because why the fuck would anyone in his estate waste their time with this? But still, get your nasty fucking hands off his Grammy, Chainsmokers. Both of you are cunts and will be irrelevant by this time next year.

– Chance got his due here. Best Rap Album for Coloring Book, Best Rap Performance for “No Problems”, and Best New Artist for Chano himself. He was effusive and genuine in his speeches, shouting out Soundcloud and his Chicago roots, making sure the people he wanted to mention got their due. “You can play the music but I’mma keep talking.” Never stop, Chance. You deserve it.

I really hope this leads to the Grammys doing a better job of acknowledging the power and influence of the Internet in hip-hop. More than any other genre, some of the best artists in the field build themselves through the Internet. Artists as huge as Kanye West (with The Life of Pablo still not available in any physical format) and Frank Ocean (with the visual album Endless and the pop-up shops for Boys Don’t Cry, the magazine containing the only physical copies of Blonde that are readily available) use the Internet as their primary musical delivery service, and streaming is more essential to hip-hop consumption than any other genre. So opening up the awards to streaming-only albums is a great step, but only if they actually follow through with it and recognize the artists that deserve it. That’s hard to do when Chance is so far above any of his contemporaries in popularity and mainstream appeal, but they have to try.

– Beyoncé won Best Urban Contemporary Album, which, as we’ve previously established here at iTunes A to Z, is a code word for “Best Black Album.” It doesn’t mean anything, and of course Beyoncé won, because who the fuck else would win it this year? But still. She was also up for Album of the Year, which is suspiciously the same arrangement Frank Ocean had when he was robbed of several Grammys he deserved to win last year. But they couldn’t do Beyoncé dirty like that, right?

Right?

– Alas, Beyoncé fell victim to the Adele Whirlwind. It’s almost unfair. The rest of the music industry should be glad that Adele only drops an album once every three or four years, because if she did this annually, she would destroy any chance anyone else could have of winning. Beck wouldn’t stand a chance. Arcade Fire would get blown the fuck out. Beyoncé, musical juggernaut that she is, continues to hit the glass ceiling of two diamond records out of three. Adele’s mainstream appeal and genuine songwriting talent is unbeatable. Five Grammys in all this year, including a sweep of Record (“Hello”), Song (“Hello” again), and Album of the Year (25). She’s now swept the big three categories twice, first with 21, now with 25, and she’s the only artist to ever do that. And, as her album title explains, she’s still only in her 20s. The Adele Whirlwind will ravage the Grammys every few years for decades to come. She shows no signs of slowing down.

And it’s for this reason that the Grammys should do well not to fuck with Adele or anyone she might bring on stage. During her speech for Song of the Year, Adele brought her co-writer up to do his own speech, the first time he’d ever been on stage to do so. However, when she stepped away, the production team apparently thought she was done, and rudely cut to Solange introducing the next segment, just as Greg Kurstin was attempting to thank his parents after winning for “Hello.” The lights dimmed on him in the middle of his thank-yous and the Grammys were greeted by a rare unanimous wave of booing from a crowd clearly incensed that someone who barely ever got to be in the spotlight was swept aside so crudely. Adele herself was indignant when accepting Record of the Year at the end of the night, snapping that “you cut him off last time!” Kurstin got to say his thanks this time, but it serves as a reminder that Adele is a Grammy powerhouse, and likely a big reason for people to tune in, so the producers should give her whatever the fuck she wants, lest she decide to boycott the Grammys next year, too.

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Kevin Winter/Getty

And in one last bit of subversion of the Grammys, when Adele received Album of the Year, she promptly rejected and said Beyoncé should’ve won, once again stating that Lemonade had been a transformative influence on her, a major catalyst for her own music and identity. This was much more humble than I expected, but hammered home the point that Adele is just another regular person who happens to have extraordinary talent, and she can be starstruck by her heroes just like us, and indignant that they weren’t given their proper due just like us.

Now, I’ll say that Album of the Year was a layup if I’ve ever seen one. Is Lemonade a more powerful artistic statement? Sure. But it’s not like Adele just shits these albums out and rides fun hooks like Taylor Swift did with 1989. She puts time and effort, and a great deal of care and personal anguish, into her songs, and she just happens to be talented enough to make those songs have great mainstream appeal. That is a talent set more than worthy of winning over Beyoncé, as unfortunate as it is that two of Beyoncé’s best albums in a row were unable to secure Album of the Year.

The Adele Whirlwind is undefeated.