Tuesday, October 30, 2012

13 (2+11) Random Thoughts I Had While Listening to Brandy's "Two Eleven"

1. I know the title of Brandy's sixth studio album was inspired by her birthday (February 11), a big day she shares with Jennifer Aniston which might hereafter be best known as the anniversary of the death of Whitney Houston, Brandy's No. 1 idol. Creepy? Just a little. If she had to assign a numerical value to her latest work, why not go the same route as Elton John, who was the age Brandy is now (33) when he released his 21st album, 21 at 33?

2. Looking at the cover of Two Eleven, I'm surprised at how little Brandy has changed in the 18 years since her self-titled debut album. (Even the braids are back, briefly, in the "Put It Down" video!) She's pretty much the same wide-eyed girl I first met in 1994 in New York City. I mean, aren't we all?

3. Pardon me while I go way off topic. Still gazing at the Two Eleven cover image, I realize why I don't love Revenge more than I do (aside from the fact that too many B-level plot threads is making season two slightly unwieldy). It's hard for me to buy that on the show, nobody, not even Jennifer Jason Leigh -- who A) doesn't age, and B) was so much more perceptive under the influence of God knows what in Georgia and Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle) -- can see that the young lady calling herself Emily Thorne, not the one passing for Amanda Clarke, is the all-grown-up eldest daughter of David Clarke. I mean, do kids really change so much between the ages of 10 and 25ish that they look like totally different people? (Perhaps they cast a young Amanda Clarke who looks more like Margarita Levieva, who plays faux Amanda, than Emily VanCamp, to sell the unbelievable premise.) Madeleine Stowe's Victoria Grayson seems to be a smart, observant, intuitive woman. Doesn't she recognize the past when it's staring her right in the face and plotting against her?

4. I won't hold my breath waiting for a Brandy guest arc on Revenge, but I have enjoyed watching her on Drop Dead Diva. She's a natural actress and a beautiful one, too. I wonder why Hollywood was never able to offer her anything better than I Know What You Did Last Summer. Now that Mary J. Blige is out as Nina Simone in that upcoming biopic, I wish they'd uncast Zoe Saldana and give Brandy the role. I bet she'd be a Diana Ross in Lady Sings the Blues-style revelation, and she could do her own singing.

5. Getting back to the album, that deep throbbing baseline that underscores "So Sick" might be the greatest production flourish on Two Eleven. Thank God, the third track is not, as I feared it might be, a cover of the 2006 No. 1 single by Ne-Yo, a talented singer-songwriter to whom I've never really warmed up.

6. Generally, unless they involve a powerhouse vocalist with an edge (Mary J. Blige, Toni Braxton), I haven't been particularly fond of contemporary slow jams since the '80s, which is why I'm impressed by how impressed I am by some of the ballads on Two Eleven, which could still use fewer of them. Where in the past Brandy was overly concerned with singing pretty, she's now connecting with the lyrics in way that makes a fairly pedestrian track like "No Such Thing As Too Late" not only highly listenable but highly enjoyable, too.

7. Two Eleven blends elements of 1998 and 2012 without sounding wholly like a product of either decade. That said, a song like "Let Me Go" couldn't have possibly existed pre-Rihanna. Thankfully, Brandy's semi-impersonation of Rihanna is a far more natural fit than Alicia Keys' on "New Day." Perhaps it's because a world-class singer like Keys is capable of so much more, but while Brandy sounds like she's stretching, trying to expand her comfort zone, Keys seems to be simply trying (too hard) to be hip and hitworthy.

8. "If mama saw this side of me, she would be on Twitter saying, 'You know I didn't raise you that way'" (from "Let Me Go") might very well be my favorite R&B lyric of 2012. And how 2012 is mom vs. daughter on Twitter? Considering that the Norwoods starred on the 2010-11 VH1 reality series Brandy & Ray J: A Family Business, I actually wouldn't put it past them.

9. Speaking of Sonja Norwood, I wonder how she feels about her big sacrifice now. In 1994 when I interviewed Brandy and Sonja for a People magazine feature, her mother burst into tears when recounting how she gave up her career working for H&R Block in order to manage her tween daughter. Was it worth it? Despite her tears at the time, she said yes without hesitating.

10. Sonja must be proud of the fact that Brandy is the rare child star who aged gracefully and unblemished by scandal. Aside from one unfortunately fatal fender bender at the end of 2006, she's managed to stay out of the tabloids over the years, which is more than I can say for her kid brother (and Kim Kardashian's ex and home-video costar) Ray J. Would it be too much to ask for a gold and platinum reward?

11. Probably. "Put It Down," like recent comeback non-hits by Christina Aguilera and No Doubt, has underperformed on the charts and might become the first lead single from a Brandy studio album to miss the Top 40. (Though I'm pretty sure all the artlessly done product placement in the video padded her coffers nicely.) I particularly love how Brandy effortlessly shifts vocal personas throughout the song: raspy seductress one moment, angelic crooner the next, segueing into haughty semi-rapper for a few bars. She's squarely center stage, as she should be, which makes me wonder, on a 14-track (plus three "Deluxe"-edition extras) album featuring only one star cameo, why did it have to be Chris Brown?

12. Overall, Two Eleven is a huge improvement on 2008's plodding ironically lifeless Human, but it's no match for 2002's Full Moon or 2004's Afrodisiac, Brandy's masterpiece. I'd put it on par with 1998's Never Say Never, which had the chart-topping Monica duet, "The Boy Is Mine," as its secret commercial weapon. Yet another reason why Brandy should have aimed higher than Chris Brown.

13. Intros and outros -- so... '90s. You can take the girl out of the decade...

Monday, October 29, 2012

Late-'90s R&B Wouldn't Have Been the Same Without Natina Reed of Blaque (R.I.P.)

The first thing I thought about last night when I read that Natina Reed, a member of the R&B trio Blaque, had been killed after being struck by a car on a highway outside of Atlanta was my mother. Not because Mom is a huge fan of turn-of-the-century R&B vocal groups. My mother has lived in Atlanta since 1987, and I always worry about her on the road. She's the safest driver I know, but when you get behind the wheel of a car, you're at the mercy of other people's recklessness.

According to the Gwinnett County Police, recklessness was not the cause of the accident that killed Reed -- at least not the driver's, and they are still trying to determine why Reed was on the road. The saddest part of the end of Reed's too-short story is that she leaves behind a 10-year-old son (his dad is the rapper Kurupt), and she passed away on October 26, just two days before what would have been her 33rd birthday.

We'll never know what the future may have held for Reed, who'd recently reunited with her Blaque groupmates to record another album. Though none of the recent comebacks by '90s hitmakers have resulted in major hits, perhaps Blaque finally would have delivered on the great promise of "808," the trio's debut single, which hit No. 8, fittingly, in 1999. The song was written and produced by R. Kelly, and the video featured a cameo by TLC's Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, who, eerily, was killed in a car accident in Honduras 10 years ago.

More than 13 years after "808" was released, I still regularly listen to it on repeat, usually when I'm working out. It might be the sexiest hit to emerge from the pop era that brought us Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync, whose JC Chasez appeared on Blaque's second Top 10 single, "Bring It All to Me," the group's Hot 100 swan song, which was followed by an appearance in the 2000 film Bring It On.

The '90s may be long over, but thanks, in part, to the creative contribution of Reed, they'll live on in my iPod, in much the same way that her memory will live on with her son and the people who loved her.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Lost in Asia: Do You Know the Way to Bali?

And I thought the early twentysomething Thai native I met last summer who couldn't find Malaysia, Thailand's neighbor to the south, on a map was bad. Today I had a brief chat with a 20-year-old guy from Sydney who just arrived in Bangkok for a backpacking adventure, and he brought geographical cluelessness to new depths. I was surprised when he told me that he's never been to Melbourne, which is a lot like being from New York City and never bothering to check out Boston, but it's not completely unfathomable. I presumed he at least knew that Melbourne was south of Sydney, but by the end of our conversation, I wasn't entirely sure.

Me: "So how long are you in Bangkok?"

Him: "Maybe a week or two. I gotta make my way to Bali on the 9th. Not really sure where it is. I'm guessing I have to fly, though."

If there'd been a globe nearby, I would have asked him to pinpoint our approximate whereabouts on it, just to be sure he knew. I suppose that he should be commended for getting out of his comfort zone and seeing the world, but shouldn't a key part of that process be knowing where in it you're going to? Though I realize that my near-obsession with geography isn't a universal malady -- I can spend hours, or the entire time it takes to fly from Bangkok to Bali, staring at the maps in the back of in-flight magazines, but really, who else does that? -- I figured that every Australian at least knew for sure that you have to fly to get to Bali. It's like their Hawaii, after all.

I considered suggesting that he take a taxi there, but I resisted the urge to screw with him. I figured he's got enough problems. Good thing he's charming and pretty, I thought after taking my leave. Maybe he can use that to get to Bali.

Geography in Song

"Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" Dionne Warwick

"Where's the Ocean?" Toni Childs

"Can't Get There from Here" R.E.M.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

"Solid Gold" & Platinum: 5 Reasons Why '80s Music Television Was So Much Better Than It Is Now

And then there was the Psychic Friends Network. But first came Solid Gold, the TV gig that made Dionne Warwick an '80s icon resurrected before she morphed into a '90s punchline. The closest thing the U.S. ever had to the UK's Tops of the Pops, Solid Gold might be best remembered by some as the show hosted by faded pop stars looking to relight their fire: Warwick, Marilyn McCoo, Andy Gibb, Rex Smith and Rick Dees, a one-hit-wonder DJ-turned-television personality who topped Billboard's Hot 100 in 1976 with "Disco Duck."

For me, though, Solid Gold was a Saturday mainstay, required viewing at 1pm, right after Casey Kasem's America's Top 10. If it hasn't aged as gracefully as some of the music television that preceded it in the '70s -- American Bandstand, Soul Train, The Midnight Special -- it's probably because of the Solid Gold Dancers, who complemented the countdown of the week's Top 10 hits (from a chart that must have been compiled by the show's producers since it didn't bear any resemblance to Billboard's hit list) with choreographed routines that reeked of '80s cheese. But that was just another reason to love the show!

My prayers that the series would one day get the DVD treatment thus far remain unanswered, but thanks to YouTube, I can now relive the Saturday afternoons of my youth, right here on my computer screen.

5 Great Solid Gold Moments

Marilyn McCoo "I've Never Been to Me" (1982) You can't get more '80s than "I've Never Been to Me," and McCoo took it even further down the path of unbridled campiness. (Her Joan Collins-in-Monte Carlo hand movements at 1:48 might very well be the single most indelible image from the entire Solid Gold series for me.) Although I hated what McCoo did to the song at the time, the mere mental recollection of her awkwardly gliding across the stage while trying to make Charlene's 1982 No. 3 hit her own has brought much laughter to my life in the 30 years since.

Anne Murray and Dionne Warwick "You Won't See Me" (1986) It didn't seem as random as it probably should have to me when Murray showed up to duet with return host Warwick, who had left in 1982 after one season, for a cover or Murray's Beatles cover that John Lennon once deemed his favorite remake of a Beatles song. For years, I considered Dionne Warwick to be the black Anne Murray, so seeing them onstage together was like watching the perfect marriage of great interpretative stylists.

Three Dog Night "Liar" (1984) Only after I found a YouTube clip of one of my Top 7 favorite '70s bands (right up there with Chicago, ELO, ABBA, Fleetwood Mac, Bee Gees and Queen) on Solid Gold did I remember that the show used to occasionally showcase oldies but goodies sung by acts other than the hosts. Which reminds me, how about a little love from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for Three Dog Night? Sure the three lead vocalists didn't write their hits, but few acts of the time had so many that still hold up so well today: "One," "Eli's Coming," "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)," "Joy to the World," and seven other Top 10 singles, including the one they performed on Solid Gold 13 years after it hit No. 7 on the Hot 100.

Adam Ant "Goody Two Shoes" (1981) Who said Solid Gold wasn't cutting edge? The show invited Adam and the Ants to perform their No. 1 UK hit "Stand and Deliver," more than a year before Adam Ant finally enjoyed his belated U.S. breakthrough with "Goody Two Shoes," his "solo" debut. Lip syncing along to his biggest hit while the Solid Gold Dancers sparkled alongside him, putting on their best Jazzercise-like moves is hardly rock & roll, but I like it.

Dionne Warwick and Friends "I Say a Little Prayer" Who sang it best? Warwick, who took the Burt Bacharach/Hal David composition to No. 4 in 1967, or Aretha Franklin, who carried it to No. 10 the following year. Who cares? They sounded so perfect killing it together in 1981. (Fun fact: Warwick had sung it with Glen Campbell as a stunning mash up with his "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" on the show's 1979 pilot, and she'd revisit it once more, with Boy George, during her '85-'86 hosting stint.) I love how Franklin's presence, in particular, inspired Warwick, who'd offered a stunning live rendition of Franklin's "Daydreaming" on The Flip Wilson Show nine years earlier, to bare her soulfulness in a way she rarely did singing on her own.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What Not to Say to Someone Who's Just Lost the Love of a Lifetime

First, a quick clarification: By "love of a lifetime," I'm not just talking significant others. I'm referring equally to mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, grandparents, best friends and favorite pets. Someone recently told me about a dog he used to have, one with whom he was so tight that the pooch used to follow him to the bathroom and wait outside while he did his business in the loo. (I guess we do it for dogs, so why shouldn't they do it for us, too?)

I'm sure he needed someone to console him when his beloved dog passed away. I'm glad that someone wasn't me. I'm not particularly good at a great many things, and saying the right thing to a bereaved friend would be right up there on the list of things I generally don't do well. A friend in need is a friend indeed, and when the chips are down, I'll stand by his or her side. I'm loyal like that. But it's so much better for both of us if I hug you, stroke your back, nod in sympathy, do anything but open my mouth.

After all, what do you really say to someone who's just lost the love of his or her life that won't sound terribly cliche? Years ago, a good friend of mine lost her mother, and when she left a message on my answering machine telling me that her mother had died, my heart broke because her mom was such an amazing woman, then fear set in. What would I say when I called her back?

I opted for a simple "I'm so sorry about your mom. She really was a great lady. If you need anything, even just to talk, please call me anytime you want to." It was short and sweet and, I convinced myself as soon as I hung up the phone, all wrong. How could someone who always seemed to know what to say in times of joy get it so wrong now?

I've been wondering about the things we say in times of (other people's) loss while watching General Hospital this week. Three characters were killed in a shoot out by the Port Charles dock -- well, two and a half, since stoic hitman-with-a-heart-of-gold Jason Morgan's body hasn't been found, and we all know what that always means on soaps -- and all around town people who didn't really give a damn about them are going around offering their condolences.

"I'm sorry for your loss."

That one has got to rank right up there with "It is what it is" among the dumbest clichés ever. "Your loss"? So that is what we're calling the death of a beloved spouse, family member or pet these days? "Your loss"? No matter how you say them, those stilted, impersonal words just drip with indifference -- it's like they're talking about a sports game or spilled milk. Even if you're being sincere when issuing such stock words of condolence, it's hard not to utter them without betraying just a hint of "I actually couldn't care less."

Maybe I feel this way because I know that TV characters who say it generally couldn't care less about the deceased and are just saying it because it's the thing to say in such moments (and because the scripts call for it). No one's ever actually said those words to me in real life, but then, it's been several years since I've lost anyone close to me. Back then, "I'm sorry for your loss," like "It is what it is," hadn't yet become such vernacular mainstays. But if I put myself in the shoes of the modern-day bereaved, when I hear "I'm sorry for your loss," all I see is red red red.

A word of advice to all my friends: If you ever find me walking in those shoes, skip all the talk about my "loss," and please, no other clichés (like how he or she is in a better place -- not that anyone has ever said that to me either). You know how much I hate them. A simple "I'm sorry" and a big sincere hug always works wonders. Silence is golden, you know. And in times like these, less said is always so much more.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Hump Day Soundtrack: Songs for Wednesday

Oh, behave! Get your mind out of the gutter! Ain't nobody humpin' around here? In this context, "Hump Day" refers to the middle of the work week, which, depending on whether you tend toward glass half empty or half full, means "Yay, halfway to the weekend!" or "Damn, still half a week to the weekend!" For me, this particular Hump Day meant jogging around Lumpini Park at 6am followed by a trip to the Government Complex Commemorating His Majesty Building on the outskirts of Bangkok to extend my holiday visa for 30 more days, which will keep me here at least through 27 November (unless something drags me away before then).

Of course, there was music -- a lot of it. Perhaps the greatest thing about the iPod is that since it can hold entire libraries of music, it has the power to constantly surprise you with songs that pre-iPod you'd have to actually seek out and locate in your collection of DVDs in order to hear them. So, to quote ABBA (who, curiously, didn't figure into my Wednesday soundtrack, despite being all over my iPod), thank you, iPod shuffle, for the music, for giving it to me today.

Neil Diamond "Delirious Love" I'd forgotten how much I loved 12 Songs when I bought it while on on my second holiday in Buenos Aires during the 2005 Christmas season. Rick Rubin doesn't get enough props for being one of the best producers in the history of rock & roll, the guy without whom Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill, Red Hot Chili Peppers' second (1991's Blood Sugar Sex Magik) and third (1999's Californication) winds, and Johnny Cash's late-December reinvention with the American Recordings series wouldn't have been possible. Oh, and he helped make Diamond cool for the first time for something other than songs song blue circa 1966 to 1981.

Neneh Cherry "Move with Me" One of the great pop careers that never quite happened provided a highlight from one of the great film soundtracks (1991's Until the End of the World) that thankfully did. I prefer the short and sweet 2:58 dub to the full 5:18 version that appears on Homebrew, Cherry's masterpiece from the following year.

Nancy Sinatra "Don't Let Him Waste Your Time" As a guy who just dodged the bullet of a self-described "time waster," I now can relate to this Nancy Sinatra song (from her 2004 eponymous comeback album) and vouch for its wisdom in way that I couldn't at the end of 2005, when Nancy Sinatra, along with the aforementioned 12 Songs and the Killers 2004 debut album Hot Fuss, provided the soundtrack to that second trip to BA.

Mtume "Juicy Fruit" What does Mtume's 1983 platinum R&B hit have in common with Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" and the Isley Brothers' "Between the Sheets"? It, too, represents the very best of '80s baby-making music.

Morrissey "In the Future When All Is Well" Though I generally think of his glory days as being circa 1984 to 2004, Morrissey has certainly had his moments this century: "The Youngest Was the Most Loved" and this (both from 2006's Ringleaders of the Tormentors) and a cover of the New York Dolls' "Human Being," which was a B-side of "You Have Killed Me," Tormentors kick-off single.

Missy Elliott "Sock It 2 Me" I get a little misty when guest rapper Da Brat shouts out "nine seven" (as in 1997) as if life couldn't possibly get more modern. (Note how Timbaland's production previews what was to come on Justin Timberlake's Future Sex/Love Sounds nearly a decade later.)

Fiona Apple "Better Version of Me" Seven years and a mere one studio album later, the rough bootleg of Extraordinary Machine still sounds better than the polished "official" version.

Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach "The Sweetest Punch" The 1998 Costello-Bacharach collaboration Painted from Memory might very well be my favorite album of the '90s. It's certainly the one that's gotten the most airplay at home (wherever that might be at any given moment) in the years since. Though Costello's tendency to be overly verbose has kept me from loving him as much as I probably should, his word jumbles on Painted from Memory made perfect sense even when they didn't. Swimming in the sea of love and heartbreak, who doesn't stray off topic and off logic, lapsing into streams of consciousness, saying things one doesn't quite understand and things one later wishes one could take back. Not that I'd change a single word or note on Painted from Memory.

Prince & the Revolution "Mountains" I recently was thinking about how sort of dated the best of Prince sounds today, but some of it (like this mostly forgotten 1986 single from Parade), gloriously so.

Jamiroquai "Hot Tequila Brown" Every time I listen to a Jamiroquai song (and there's a ton of them on my iPod), I recall the time I met Jason Kay at an after-party at New York City's Supper Club in the '90s and how sad I thought he seemed. I've always felt the same way about his music, which might be why it always moves me while making me move.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Burning Questions: The Goodbye, Krabi/ Chulalongkom Day Edition

And what, pray tell, is Chulalongkom Day? According to Wikipedia, 23 October is a national public holiday in Thailand commemorating the passing of King Chulalongkom in 1910. I'll have to consult Wikipedia again to find out why Chulalongkom was such a swell guy that he gets the holiday props that the U.S. so seldom bestows upon its icons. (Abraham Lincoln and George Washington have to share their day, making Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus Christ the only two with birthday honors all to themselves.) I might not have known that today was a holiday at all had I not noticed the lack of food vendors lining the normally bustling-in-the-afternoon sidewalks of Narathiwat Road as I was coming home from the airport. Burning question No. 2: Why must public holidays always mean that I go hungrier than usual?

When travel guides estimate the cost of getting to and from the airport, why do they always leave out pivotal incidentals? The motorway fees to get from Don Mueng airport home today totaled 105 baht (60 baht + 45 baht, or $2 + $1.50), which was slightly less than half of what the meter read at the end of the cab ride, which, at 220 baht (or $7.30) was exactly what Travel 3Sixty, AirAsia's in-flight magazine said it would be, and with those pesky motorway add-ons included, just slightly over one-half of the 600 baht ($20) it cost to get from Krabi International Airport to one of the hotels on Ao Nong Beach. Though sky high by Thai standards, as private airport transportation goes, $20 would be practically a steal in the wild wild West, where you'd never be able to buy a five-star meal for $3 or so from vendors lining the road outside of your hotel, on any given night of the week, as so many tourists were doing in Krabi, much to the chagrin of the greedy owners of all those half-empty restaurants along the beach, including the waiter who inexplicably knew my name and called me by it every time I walked by. (He must have read my tattoo.)

Why is it okay to transport liquids inside your checked luggage but not in your carry-on? Are airlines worried that the liquid could be something flammable that you might use to set the cabin on fire from your seat? And why do they never seem to have a problem with shampoo, small containers of lotion and roll-on deodorant? As I made my way to the other side of the security scanner at Krabi International Airport and noticed all the confiscated water bottles, I was relieved that I'd properly hydrated before checking out of Vogue Resort & Spa. My relief turned to disappointment, though, when the airport employee operating the scanner informed me that I couldn't board the plane with the three adorable mini-bottles of fruit wine (kiwi, apple and blueberry flavor) that I'd bought at the souvenir shop yesterday on the way back from Tiger Cave Temple and that the saleslady had wrapped so nicely to prevent spillage in my carry on. At 55 baht each, it was only a $5.50 loss, but I wish I'd had at least one of them last night to top off happy hour. Oh well, hopefully, the security guy, who looked like he could use a drink, will take them home and enjoy them tonight as I suggested he do before heading off to the gate, liquid free and, frankly, a little bit thirsty.

Are all of those rules and regulations that cabin crews announce pre-flight really necessary? I mean, if you take off with the Byrds "8 Miles High" blasting on your iPod, will catastrophe follow? I've tucked away my mobile phone without turning it off before a flight, and as far as I know, the pilot got off the ground without a hitch, and I lived to tell the tale today. And this afternoon, while flying home from Krabi to Bangkok, I didn't realize until halfway through the hour-and-20-minute flight that I'd never bothered to fasten my seat belt. Once again, I lived to chuckle about it. It was a smooth take off, though. I wouldn't suggest anyone try that at home -- or the next time you fly!

Do people in real life ever say things like "It's not what it looks like," "Nothing's going on here" and "Let me explain" when they're discovered in a compromising position? I know that burning question has nothing to do with Chulalongkam Day or traveling, but after seeing that tired scenario play out on some program I was watching on TV at Vogue Resort & Spa, and on way too many shows over the course of my lifetime, I had to ask. Just once I'd like the caught-red-handed party to say something cheeky like, "Well, why don't you pull up a chair and watch?" That wouldn't be particularly realistic either, or very nice, but at least it would be entertaining. Personally, I don't have any experience with being interrupted in flagrante delicto except when I've been discovered with my hands in the cookie jar (literally!), but if anyone ever caught me, say, joining the mile-high club, en route from Bangkok to Melbourne (where it would probably be most likely to happen, as Aussie guys toy with ability to resist temptation), wouldn't "It is what it is" be a more reasonable response than "It's not what it looks like"?

5 Great Things About Krabi (Do I Have to Leave?)

1. Vogue Resort & Spa I probably would have loved my Krabi crash pad based strictly on the staff and the sleeping/bathing quarters (Dear hoteliers: When in doubt, leave a fruit basket on the nightstand), but boy did I luck out with the location location location. Nearly every vantage point on campus seemed to offer a clear view of the giant mountain across the street. (Well, not my balcony, but I'm certainly not complaining about the leafy courtyard that greeted me first thing in the morning.) I've never been much of a sit-by-the-pool sort of guy, but I actually spent several hours on two consecutive afternoons writing while parked poolside just so that I could have visual access to that stunning giant rock across the street.

2. The Andaman Sea just before dusk Some two kilometers and an 80-baht tuk-tuk ride from Vogue, on the secluded beach near where the boats depart to and arrive from Koh Phi Phi, lies the most thrilling expanse of water and rock that I've seen since my trip down Great Ocean Drive outside of Melbourne two years ago.

3. The Hot Springs Waterfall Like I've said, I'm not much of a water person, but how could I resist diving (actually, stepping carefully) into a natural whirlpool heated (naturally, of course) at around 40 degrees Celsius on a morning without rain?

4. The Blue Pool People go for the Emerald Pool, but the less-frequented Blue Pool, a short 800-metre hike away, is the real highlight in these parts.

5. The monkeys at Tiger Cave Temple The spot's fierce feline former inhabitant hasn't been spotted there in decades, according to legend, but I went there to see the monkeys anyway.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Why Doesn't Jessie Ware Get As Much Love As Ellie Goulding and Alex Clare?

With all the adoration that the UK is currently showering on talented new female singer-songwriters (Emeli Sandé, Paloma Faith, Rita Ora, Rumer), how is it possible that not one of 2012 newcomer Jessie Ware's four singles so far from Devotion, her Mercury Prize-nominated debut album, has made it into the Top 40 there. Is Ellie Goulding's "Anything Can Happen" (which I love, by the way) really so much better than "110%" that it peaked a full 56 notches above Ware's No. 61 non-hit and third flop single?

Considering that Goulding's "Lights" only made it to a lowly No. 49 in the UK more than a year before it climbed to No. 2 in the U.S., perhaps it will be America to the rescue for "110%," a great down-tempo chill-out single that sounds a little like what I was kind of hoping La Roux might sound like when they finally decide to come around again. (Incidentally, my friend Atzin, who introduced me to La Roux, also turned me onto Ware, via a post on my Facebook timeline.)

Finally boosting Ware to the tops of the pops would be the least my country can do to make up for launching the likes of Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj and sending them loose on the world. May Jessie Ware follow fellow Brits Goulding and the equally talented Alex Clare (whose big hit "Too Close" might actually be the weakest link on The Lateness of the Hour) into the the Top 10 on Billboard's Hot 100.

Jessie Ware "110%

Ellie Goulding "Anything Could Happen"

Alex Clare "Whispering"

Sex Sells -- Just Don't Try Selling It Here!

In most countries some don'ts are a given. Don't kill. Don't steal. Don't bear false witness or bad mouth the government, the king, or the queen. And whatever you do, don't sell yourself to the highest bidder in commercial spaces!

In most of the major tourist traps of Thailand, though, it seems anything goes -- especially love for sale! In Chang Bar, a straight watering hole in Krabi's Centre Point entertainment complex, however, the limits of sexual liberation were firmly set: "No Prostitute in the bar"! I don't know where the proprietors stood on government hookery (and incidentally, Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" was playing when I walked in, at 10.45pm on a Saturday night), but they weren't going to stand for their patrons indulging in any foul play for pay.

Looking and laughing at the printed "No Prostitute" policy, I was reminded of the spa on Silom Road in Bangkok where the owners felt the need to list sex among the the things that one couldn't do on the premises (eat, drink alcohol, smoke, talk loudly on your mobile phone). Only in a country where it was a given that you could have your sex and sell it, too, just about anywhere, would you actually get signs like these.

As I stood by the bar at 10.49, chugging a Chang beer and wondering if I would make it to 11, Roan, a cute 27-year-old tourist guide and self-confessed (much later on) "stage 5 cuddler" from Adelaide, Australia, who was at Chang with his tour group of 35 fellow twentysomethings, approached me with a smile and a firm handshake. Two teaspoonfuls of sugar and coffee beans followed by two shots (his treat) later, the guy who was paid by the bar to photograph revelers was begging Roan and me to kiss for the camera.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Krabi, do as you're told. Who needs prostitutes when you've got that to keep you up past midnight?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Alone Again, Naturally, in Krabi, Thailand

One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do.

It takes two to make a thing go right.

Yeah yeah, I've heard it all before in song. But consider this twist on the fear of being alone: Sometimes it's better to travel solo.

I've been doing it more often than not for 20 years, and my treks for one have resulted in some of the best experiences of my life. I have a handful of friends with whom I travel well, but you know what they say about going on trips with boyfriends. Do so at your own risk!

I've been lucky so far. I've had nothing but a good time on the road with my previous boyfriends. That said, it's been several years since I've taken that particular plunge. And how does one negotiate the awkwardness of traveling with a guy you've known for about two months, someone who isn't quite a friend, not yet a boyfriend?

That's what I was wondering two nights ago while sitting in a pub in Bangkok across from the guy who'd invited me nine days earlier on a four-day long-weekend getaway to Krabi, on Thailand's southwest coast. From the moment I accepted his unexpected invitation, my feelings were as mixed as the signals he'd been sending me for weeks.

My excitement was tempered with a fair amount of trepidation, which is why I consulted with several friends to get their take on the situation (they all approved), though in my heart, I sort of suspected that this getaway for two would never happen. I figured he'd rescind his invitation, and I'd be secretly relieved. After all, could a loner like me handle a weekend in tiny close quarters with this hot and cold guy who had such a huge chip dangling from his shoulder?

Three nights before take off, he sent me a text message suggesting that we "not rush into things," that we look at the holiday as a "chance to unwind, get to know each other better, see what develops." (See the 12th warning sign in the previous post, which was mostly inspired by you know who.) My gut told me that a cold front had moved in, and he wanted out. He insisted he didn't, and after some back and forth over the phone, he apologized for overthinking things. He shouldn't have said anything (his official assessment, not mine, though I agreed).

The next morning, he sent another text message apologizing for "sounding like a dick" the night before. I accepted his apology, though I wondered if he might have been onto something. Later on, he invited me to have after-work drinks that evening, and as I got ready to meet him, I felt like I was preparing for an audition, a moment of truth. Both of us would be trying out for the role of potential travel partner. I wondered what had possessed him to invite me on this trip in the first place. And why, pray tell, had I accepted? I barely knew the guy, and I was beginning to wonder if I wanted to.

As I sat across the table from him while he fiddled with his smart phone, I pretended to be too busy looking at some interesting scene unfolding outside to care that he was being unbelievably rude. I knew that the audition wasn't going well for either one of us. I started having flashforwards of myself sweating in a bungalow without AC, swatting away mosquitoes and trying to hatch an escape plan as he tap tap tapped on that damn smart phone. My own hotel room (AC included)? The next flight back to Bangkok? I knew a preemptive strike was in order. When he finally put down the phone, I announced that he'd be traveling to Krabi solo.

And so would I. Why should I give up my trip to a place I'd never been just because I knew it would be a terrible idea to go with him? Sitting on the hour-long AirAsia flight to Krabi in the rear of the aircraft with my former would-be travel partner, who hadn't taken my near-game time decision well (he'd unfriended and blocked me on Facebook within an hour!), somewhere in front of me, I wondered if I'd made the right decision to go, after all. When I landed in Krabi and got into the taxi, I knew I had. Cab rides from airports to hotels are typically flat, drab affairs, but cruising along with high-rise rock formations rising up on both sides of the road, I felt like I was traveling through a post card. How did it take me so long to get here?

"Dear Mr. Helligar & Partner," began the welcome letter in my suite at Vogue Resort & Spa. I wondered if the proprietors had been spying on me over the course of the last few days and now were taunting me for my hasty last-minute change of plans. Then a text message arrived from my friend Samuel. He was in Krabi. He wanted to surprise me, so at the last minute he and his house guest booked a 12-hour bus ride from Bangkok to Krabi. About a half hour after I received his text, they were in my lobby.

Normally I'm not crazy about surprise visitors, but this one thrilled me. I was happy for the company and the glimpse they gave me over lunch of what might have been. Watching Samuel struggle to communicate with his Thai friend, observing his growing frustration as the guy he'd been spending the past week with paid more attention to his smart phone than anything or anyone else, I knew that despite that awkward "Dear Mr. Helligar & Partner" greeting underneath the Vogue letterhead, I'd made the right decision.

I'm looking forward to hanging out with Samuel in Krabi, but I'm also eagerly anticipating the time I'll spend alone. For a recovering introvert like me, quality time with a friend is always best when it ends with a quick "goodbye," and me alone, again, naturally.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

13 More Warning Signs That He's Probably Not "The One"

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. So declared the title of one of the best-selling books of the 1990s.

And where would you rather be? Mars or Venus? Regardless of one's sexuality, wouldn't hanging out with lovely Venusians be preferable to killing time with a bunch of Martians? In Roman mythology, Venus, for whom the planet is named, is the goddess of love, Cupid's mom. If we mere mortals could actually get to Venus (the planet, not the goddess), I suspect tickets would sell out faster than opening night of an Adele/Taylor Swift/Rihanna triple-bill concert tour.

Here on planet Earth, where we're stuck for the time being, we all could probably use some divine intervention from Venus (the goddess, not the planet) to help us negotiate the rocky road of romance with Martians, especially when two of them (a pair of Martians) are intertwined, and there's no calming, nurturing Venusian influence.

I'm not saying I'd rather be a man who loves women (though it may have worked for Burt Reynolds in 1983, it's one desire I've never harbored), but Martian-on-Martian romance can be such a challenge. You already have to contend with a largely disapproving Earthling society while negotiating the code of conduct in a relationship where there are no traditional roles or clearly defined boundaries. The least you could do is find a decent Martian to hitch your rocket to.

Alas, on Mars as it is on Earth, Mr. Right is so elusive, hard to get, though, if he truly is Mr. Right, not so impossible to hold. Mr. Wrong, however, is a trickier dude, a he wolf, mad, bad and pretty dangerous to know. Whatever planet you're from, here's some friendly advice, a few more warning signs, to help you weed out the bad Martians from the decent ones in both the gay and the straight dating pools.

1. Never underestimate your instincts. "Where there's smoke there's fire," my mother used to say, and how right she was. If your normally clear head is overcast with doubt, if your gut tells you he might be a fraud, he probably is. Proceed with caution -- kiss with one eye open -- or not at all.

2. Don't let all of the action unfold on your turf. Not just so that when it's over, you won't be the one left with most of the memories, living with them every day. Sometimes it's better to travel, if only just to see how the other half lives. If he extends no invitation to his domain, you've already been warned. He probably has something to hide, even if it's just a crummy apartment with a mattress on the floor instead of a proper king-size bed.

3. Maybe it's because I grew up listening to a country song by David Allen Coe called "You Never Even Called Me by My Name." Or perhaps Destiny's Child's "Say My Name" continues to resonate with me more than a decade after it was a No. 1 hit. I've always felt that one's name is the surest route to one's heart, which is probably why my mine goes bang and then skips a beat every time I hear Cheryl Cole's "Call My Name" and Florence + the Machine's "Say My Name."

If he's not going to call you (and truthfully, I prefer texts), he should at least have the decency to call you by your name. His neglecting to say your name when he's talking to you ("Hello, Jeremy" has a much nicer ring than a simple "Hello") doesn't mean he's forgotten it (unless you met him the night before), just that he's not into you enough to acknowledge what might be the most personal thing about you. No matter what a girlfriend of mine once said -- during an argument, she insisted that I stop beginning and ending sentences by saying her name -- the well-placed dropping of someone's name (preferably the one belonging to the one you're with), in and out of bed, can be either the greatest aphrodisiac or the most tender term of endearment.

4. It's in his kiss (as Cher once sang). And he should be laying them on you, unprompted. Kisses don't lie (as Evelyn "Champagne" King once sang). If you're instigating every one of them, and he's merely kissing you back, find something better for your lips to do. Buy a bag of lollipops, or lemons. They're less sour than a tentative kiss, and they'll leave your breath lemon fresh for when a decent kisser -- one who wants to kiss you first -- comes along.

5. Are you starting to notice that he pops Xanax like aspirin? Isn't that stuff like the anti-Viagra? If you're going to be dull and low-energy out of bed, the least you could do is perk up between the sheets.

6. Is he a weak conversationalist who always takes the best seat in restaurants, the one where he's facing the entrance -- and the action -- so that all you have to look at is his face and the wall? Frankly, I'd rather stare out a window at the far more interesting passersby.

7. If he seldom lays his cards on the table but never forgets to put his smart phone there, find another place to sit. Why spend a round of drinks trying to gaze into the eyes of a guy who can't take his off his phone?

8. Beware if you find yourself overthinking every text message so that he doesn't get the wrong idea, or that you don't bruise his fragile ego. (Oh, beware those fragile egos!) Text communication between two people who belong together should flow naturally and easily. Save the angst for when you're talking on the phone, or face to face, or not at all.

9. If he takes too many hours (as in more than one) to respond to your text messages when you know his smart phone is practically attached to his palm, stop sending them.

10. What do you do with a guy who bottles up everything inside except for anger? (Hint: Where's the nearest exit?) We've all dated at least one angry young man, the one who has trouble expressing himself unless it's through rage (hopefully, without fists flying, Chris Brown-style). Who wants to spend life walking around on eggshells? Love hurts, but it shouldn't f**k up your feet, too.

11. Does he show up for a romantic dates in a posh setting looking like he just crawled out of a clothes hamper? I'm all for dressing down, but there's a time and place for cheap t-shirts and tattered jeans. If he can get all dressed up for work, can't he at least put on a decent pair of shoes for a nice dinner with you?

12. Picture this: He invites you to go away for the weekend after less than two months of dating and then a few days before take off, he sends you a text message telling you that he's excited about the upcoming holiday, and then suggesting that you "don't rush into things" and "see what develops." It's like proposing marriage before asking to just go steady. Who does that? If you must go, be sure to book your own room in a hotel that's preferably far away from where he'll be staying, alone.

13. It's bad enough that he insists on being friends on Facebook. After you reluctantly accept his invitation, he never publicly acknowledges you by posting on your timeline or even "liking" anything you put there. I know: How 2012 of me. But trust me, there's probably no greater sign that you aren't destined to be "friends" forever. One final warning: When you finally come to your senses and dump him, expect to be unfriended and blocked within the hour.

3 More Great Songs About the Wrong Guy

"Mr. Wrong" Sade

"The Wrong Man" Anita Baker

"He's a Liar" Bee Gees

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Best Thing About "Revenge" (Besides Madeleine Stowe!)

I guess what they say is true: Good things do come to those who wait -- at least until sometime after episode three. Despite its shaky start, Revenge is growing on me. I'm halfway through the first season, and while I'm not completely hooked, line and sinker, I'm sitting somewhere near the edge of my seat. During the climax of episode 11, when the birthday clam bake on the beach was interrupted by a psychotic wielding an unloaded pistol, I had to shift position lest I fall off the couch.

I remain unsold on the series' overall premise, the catalyst for the titular chain of events, and Emily Thorne's poker face (courtesy of Emily VanCamp's too-restrained portrayal) still kind of bores me. Thankfully, though, my beloved Madeleine Stowe is no longer spending quite so much time lurking on the sidelines, and Gabriel Mann never fails to entertain me whenever he pops up as Nolan Ross, Emily Thorne's partner in comeuppance.

I'm no great fan of voice overs, and the ones that end each episode are no less annoying than Meredith Grey's musings at the end of Grey's Anatomy, but as with Grey's, they sound better if you focus on the music that's playing in the background. Though the Revenge soundtrack is no match for the one that accompanied Ringer, last season's now-defunct woman-with-a-dark-secret drama that Revenge is constantly reminding me of -- and which, incidentally, did not include a Sarah Michelle Gellar voice over at the end of every episode, but began with one very similar to the Emily VanCamp narration that begins each round of Revenge -- the music supervisor for Revenge knows how to punctuate a scene with song.

The ones that play over the closing montages are episodic highlights, the perfect soundtrack to my closing thoughts on the fierceness of Madeleine Stowe, and by extension, Victoria Grayson, a less-hands-on homemaker Bree Van de Kamp with even more of a whiplash smile. I'd be as terrified of crossing her as the journalist in episode 12 played by Roger Bart, whose Desperate Housewives character, incidentally, crossed Bree Van de Kamp and didn't live to tell the tale. Uh oh! Out he goes again, in another blaze of un-glory.

Three Revenge Songs Worth Sticking Around (Until the End of the Episode) For

Little Dragon "Twice," from the end of episode 5

Silver Swans "Anyone's Ghost," from the end of episode 6 (a cover of a song by the National, whose "About Today" was one of my favorite things about Warrior, the 2011 film that should not, under any circumstance, be confused with Ke$ha's identically titled upcoming album)

Lissie "Nothing Else Matters," from the end of episode 11 (a cover of Metallica's 1992 Top 40 hit)

Monday, October 15, 2012

My Problem with the First Three Episodes of "Revenge"

I know, how behind the times could I possibly be? The rest of the world (at least those in the part of it where Revenge actually airs on TV, on schedule) is already into the second season of one of last season's most-talked-about new shows, and I'm just getting around to diving into my first-season DVDs of the ABC hit.

My biggest impression after watching the first three episodes: This is what everyone's been gushing about so breathlessly? God, I hope Homeland is better than this. At least now I understand why Revenge was pretty much absent from the 2012 Emmy race.

Don't take this the wrong way. I flat out adore Madeleine Stowe, and I have since 1990 when I first saw her with Kevin Costner on the poster for a film called, ironically, Revenge. For years I've been dying for the largely MIA actress to return to the screen (the big one preferably, no offense to the small) in a great meaty role. I'm not sure if that part is Victoria Grayson, who has spent much of the episodes I've watched so far on the periphery. Stowe makes an excellent bitch with a heart of gold-plated stone, and whenever she's onscreen, my attention is undivided. She's a not-so-real Housewife of New York who could make Countess LuAnn de Lesseps cower. If only Revenge were all about her.

Unfortunately, three episodes in, it seems to be all about Emily Thorne, played by Emily VanCamp, and the payback she's seeking to punish those responsible for the false imprisonment and death of her father, a multi-millionaire-turned-accused-terrorist portrayed in flashbacks by James Tupper, the hot rugged actor who costarred with Anne Heche in Men in Trees and is now her partner in real life. I swear, some girls -- Heche, VanCamp -- have all the luck.

The execution of the concept has two glaring flaws: The first is VanCamp. I never paid much attention to the ever-gainfully employed actress in Everwood or Brothers & Sisters, but based on the evidence I've seen up to now on Revenge, I'm surprised that such a bland actress would be cast as vixen No. 1. Everything about VanCamp is too lightweight. She lacks that can't-take-my-eyes-off-her quality that I require from my soap divas. You know something is wrong when you're paying more attention to a side dish like Ashley Madekwe, whom I loved as Bambi in Secret Diary of a Call Girl, than you are to the main course. At the end of 43 minutes, you're still hungry for something substantial.

Though the part of Emily Thorne is probably more suited to a brunette (I don't know why, but black hair just equals schemer to me), I suspect they went with a blonde to provide a visual counterpoint to brunette Stowe, which begs the question: Wasn't Kristen Bell available? Anyone who saw Burlesque knows that the normally perky actress can go full-on bitch when she needs to. Katie Cassidy, who negotiated similar terrain in the new Melrose Place and Gossip Girl, also would have rocked the part.

The second glaring flaw: the revenge itself. Perhaps it's because I'm not a big fan of dishes best served cold, or maybe I've had my fill of revenge after years of watching daytime TV, but really, does it solve anything? Even stepping out of my Pollyanna shoes for a minute and pretending that I want to see more revenge plots on my TV screen, there needs to be more to a show's central premise, which is why I'm hoping that as the season unfolds, I see more of Stowe and less of VanCamp. I'll never tire of watching overprotective mothers shielding their beloved sons from unspeakable sluts.

Also, Thorne's revenge schemes would be more compelling if we knew the character better, if we were more invested in her because we saw how her father's legal predicament made her suffer. The flashbacks haven't been enough to draw me into her story and care whether or not she makes everyone pay. As much as I hate them for causing James Tupper to be relegated to brief flashbacks, I'm not that interested in seeing him avenged by a little girl playing dress-up bitch.

Tellingly, the flashback scenes featuring Tupper and Stowe's characters and the fallout from their clandestine affair have been more interesting than anything set in the present day. Three episodes in, I can't help but think that Revenge is the rare instance where living in the past just might have been the way to go.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Thoughts on Therapy: The Pros and Cons of Being That Other Type of Couch Potato

"You Americans and your therapy," David said to me while we were watching an episode of Nip/Tuck in which Sean and Christian were attending some sort of couples therapy, being counseled by a shrink played by the bald guy who recently appeared on General Hospital as the Balkan. (Aside from "Three on a Couch," one of the funniest episodes of The Golden Girls, I don't believe I'd ever heard of friends going to joint therapy, but Sean and Christian were probably more intimate with each other than they were with any of their wives and lovers over the course of Nip/Tuck's six seasons.)

David made his pronouncement completely without judgment, adding that back home in England, everyone just keeps it all inside. I'm not sure if he sees this as a good or bad thing, or if it's just a neutral observation, a simple fact of life that he doesn't have the power to/interest in changing.

I didn't take offense to his generalization about Americans. Living abroad for six years, I've heard most of them. We're loud, we're uncultured, we're a bunch of violent, gun-toting maniacs. I'd never encountered the one about how we're obsessed with therapy (outside of New York City), but if all those other character defects that are constantly being leveled against us are, in fact, accurate, then perhaps the whole lot of us could actually benefit from some time on the couch.

My views on therapy and shrinks in general go back and forth. I certainly don't subscribe to the anti-psychiatry stance espoused by Scientologists, who, ironically, could probably use a lot of it. I think therapy can be beneficial when you are dealing with specific crises, and you're looking for a way to make it out safely to the other side. As for recreational therapy -- paying a shrink to indulge our self-obsession for an hour every week because, well, life is messy, and we can't make it alone -- it probably depends on the patient. As someone who tends to be goal-oriented, it's hard for me to throw my full support behind any treatment that doesn't have a clear-cut endgame.

I've had two experiences with therapy. I was diagnosed as suffering from panic disorder in September of 2006 after one session with a therapist in New York City, and the previous summer, I spent three months on the couch. I never thought it would be the place for me, but I must admit that it was helpful. It was good to spend one hour every week talking about nothing but me and everyone who'd wronged me in the past week. My therapist always seemed to take my side, which made me feel empowered, not at all crazy.

He also occasionally doled out some tough love. One session, after listening to my litany of latest complaints, he nodded in agreement as if I had every right to be appalled, and then he diagnosed me as a classic "people pleaser," I was having such a hard time with people, he said, because I wanted everyone to like me. I always had to be the good guy -- the good son, the good brother, the good friend, the good lover, the good everything. I was spending so much time pleasing everyone that I wasn't pleasing myself, and as a result, I was tumbling into an abyss of resentment.

It sounds simple enough, but until he said the actual words, I'd never considered that might be my problem. It was one of those rare moments of true epiphany, the enlightenment that ultimately led to my leaving New York City and moving to Argentina, a country where I had no one to please but myself.

Ironically, it's also a country where people are even more obsessed with therapy than Americans. I'm not sure of the exact figures, but I once read somewhere that the number of people in Argentina with therapists is much closer to 100 percent than in the United States, or maybe it was that there is one therapist for every 30 people. At first, this information surprised me because Argentines never really struck me as being particularly interested in enlightenment or self-awareness, though I always thought they seemed a little bit sad.

That said, if the solipsistic world view prevails anywhere, it would be there. Many local folks I encountered over the course of four and a half years in Buenos Aires treat life as a one-man (or woman) show in which family and friends are guest stars and everyone else figments of an overactive imagination. Why wouldn't they want to spend an hour talking about themselves? That doesn't mean they're digging deep, delving into all that complicated stuff that Brits apparently push aside for detailed analysis some non-rainy day.

Whether you choose to go there, whether you want to spend three months, three years or three decades in therapy, if you can afford it, I say go for it. Even if it's largely just an agent for the indulgence of your self-obsession, all me me me, if you're in therapy, at least you're communicating with someone. And if that someone allows you to talk about nothing but yourself for 60 minutes, there's a better chance that when you re-enter the real world, the one where we don't get paid by the hour to listen, you'll be more than ready to change the subject.

Friday, October 12, 2012

10 Awesome '90s Songs By Awesome '80s Bands

Bell Biv DeVoe "Do Me!" (from Poison, 1990) Better known as three-fifths of New Edition, the biggest R&B boy band of the '80s, before they went from boys to men, before Boyz II Men. More than two decades later, I'm still dying to use this song's most memorable line -- "To the Jacuzzi, ooh, that booty, smack it up, flip it, rub it down, oh no!" -- on someone.

Pet Shop Boys "Being Boring" (from Behaviour, 1990) Though the duo's biggest hits were in the '80s, much of PSB's best work -- including the production of Boy George's comeback hit "The Crying Game" -- arrived during the following decade, which began with PSB's hands-down masterpiece, one of the best albums of any decade.

Siouxsie and the Banshees "Kiss Them for Me" (from Superstition, 1991) It's a long long way, chronologically and creatively, from 1978's "Hong Kong Garden" to Siouxsie and her Banshee's only Top 40 U.S. hit, but what a strange, twisted trip it was, with not a single dull moment.

INXS "Heaven Sent" (from Welcome to Wherever You Are, 1992) I read somewhere that Terence Trent D'Arby was a huge fan of Welcome to Wherever You Are, possibly the best '90s album by a quintessentially '80s band, after U2's Achtung Baby and Pet Shop Boys Behaviour. (I'm not counting R.E.M.'s Automatic for the People. Since the band's commercial and creative zeniths both came in the '90s, I've never considered R.E.M. quite '80s.) If D'Arby had been installed as the permanent lead singer of INXS after Michael Hutchence's death in 1997, not only would we have been spared Rock Star: INXS, but the merged '80s bestsellers probably would have struck platinum for the first time since Ronald Reagan (in D'Arby's case) and George (Bush) I (in INXS's) were living in the White House.

Sade "Like a Tattoo" (from Love Deluxe, 1992) Contrary to popular belief, the name Sade refers to both the woman and the band, the procrastinating outfit that has released exactly one excellent album per decade since its holy '80s triumvirate of Diamond Life, Promise and Stronger Than Pride.

Tears for Fears "Break It Down Again" (from Elemental, 1993) "What is Tears for Fears?" I asked then-sole official TFF member Roland Orzabal at a record release party for Elemental in New York City's East Village on June 7, 1993. His response: "Tears for Fears is a way of life." What a douche. The single, TFF's final one to make it into the U.S. Top 40, rocked, though.

Ric Ocasek "Crash" (from the Speed soundtrack, 1994) Okay, so it wasn't a Cars reunion (that wouldn't come until last year's Move Like This), but today I listen to "Crash" more than I do anything by the '70s/'80s band that Ocasek fronted. Considering how much I love "Let's Go," "Magic" and "You Are the Girl," that's saying a hell of a lot.

Depeche Mode "Barrel of a Gun" (from Ultra, 1997) Despite how I feel about the right to bear arms, if I could listen to any Depeche Mode song all day long while staring down a firearm, it would be this one.

Duran Duran "Electric Barbarella" (from Medazzaland, 1997) Noteworthy as much for being the great first single from DD's overlooked Medazzaland as for being the subject of my very first conversation with my now BFF.

Eurythmics "I Saved the World Today" (from Peace, 1999) One of several tracks on Eurythmics' end-of-the-decade reunion album (the others being "Power to the Meek," "Peace Is Just a Word," "I've Tried Everything" and "Lifted") that stand up to the duo's best work from its late-'80s soul phase, if not its earlier synth-pop classics. I once heard the song, a No. 11 UK hit, on an episode of The Sopranos, which, interestingly, was the only one I ever saw. (I hate mob stories.)