Friday, September 26, 2014

Enough Covers Albums! -- and 9 Other Things I'm So Over Right Now

They've been done, folks. To death. Yesterday my brother emailed me to say that he was looking forward to reading my thoughts on Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga's new collaborative effort, Cheek to Cheek. That was almost enough encouragement to get me to check out an album I'd been planning on ignoring, but I just don't think I can go there yet again.

I've had it with the Great American Songbook. When Linda Ronstadt first tackled it back in 1983 with What's New, kicking off a trilogy of standards albums and one of the dominant pop trends of the last 30 years, it was a welcome platinum-bound novelty. No rock superstar had ever shared top billing with as high-brow an act as The Nelson Riddle Orchestra. Ronstadt infused new life into musty old standards that many of us had never heard, making them sound like toddlers bursting with energy.

A billion trips to that playground later, those songs that we've now spent so many years learning and singing could use a long nap. And frankly, like other people's children, some of them aren't as wonderful as the people who keep reviving them seem to think they are. "Lush Life" and "Nature Boy" (both of which are featured on Cheek to Cheek, of course) may deserve their iconic status, but is a trifle like "Let's Face the Music and Dance" (also on Cheek to Cheek) a classic because it's such a stellar song or because we've heard it so many times that it's permanently stuck in our heads?

The track list of Nostalgia, Annie Lennox's second album of covers, which is due October 21, displays better taste, if not a considerably more adventurous spirit, which is odd, considering that Lennox and Gaga both so boldly embraced gender- and sexuality-bending iconoclasm in their respective heydays. But despite the presence of "Strange Fruit" (already definitively covered by Sting in the 1980s) and "Summertime" (which Fantasia Barrino probably should have had the final word on after she performed it twice during American Idol's third season), this was a much better idea 19 and a half years ago when Lennox released Medusa, her first album of covers.

Other-people's-songs fatigue hadn't yet kicked in, and although "No More I Love You's" aside, there were few surprises in Medusa's song selection, Lennox, for the most part, improved on her source material. I recently heard The Clash's "Train in Vain," and it actually sounded kind of odd to me because I missed the religious fervor that Medusa brought to it, the gospel according to Annie Lennox. (You've got to hand it to her for having the balls to take The Clash to church!) Sweet dreams were made of this -- her glissando vocal approach to Neil Young's "Don't Let It Bring You Down" -- and I once spent an entire Sunday afternoon crying over her take on Paul Simon's "Something So Right."

I haven't listened to anything on Nostalgia yet, so I can't comment on the quality of its contents, but if I wanted more nostalgia from Lennox, whose previous two solo releases -- a hits compilation and a Christmas collection -- were brimming with musical memories, I could have put on "Something So Right" and remembered how it made me feel that afternoon in May of 1995 and what was going on in my life at the time. (I'd recently broken up with my second boyfriend, and he'd just left my apartment after dropping off my 26th-birthday present, a Donny Hathaway CD.) Or I can listen to any of her solo albums, or the work she did with Dave Stewart as one-half of Eurythmics. I've been waiting five years for new non-seasonal solo music from Lennox -- technically, seven and a half, if you consider that her last two new non-Christmas songs, 2009's "Shining Light" and "Pattern of My Life," were old songs, Ash and Keane covers, respectively -- the least she could have done is given us something, well, new.

I'm sure Lennox will sound great singing "God Bless the Child," but if Cape Town, the city Lennox and I both call home at the moment, has been so inspiring for me, why hasn't it done the same for her musically?

1. Bitch slapping It was entertaining back in the '80s when Alexis and Krystle used to do it on Dynasty -- especially to each other -- because it was a rare treat. Now, frankly, I'd rather watch the ladies who punch use words to cut each other down, or failing to come up with suitably bitchy ones on the spot, bean each other with wine glasses. (Thank you, Real Housewives of New York's Ramona Singer, for having the guts to change it up a little.)

Days of Our Lives, I'm mostly talking to you! A few months ago, when Abigail Deveraux smacked her cousin Nick Fallon for daring to verbally sully her honor, he taunted her some more, suggesting that it must have been the first time she'd ever hit anyone. Actually, it was the second time: Abigail, the former recipient of a bitch slap, courtesy of Carrie Brady for trying to steal Carrie's husband, and the sassy little thing who once choked Chloe Lane in the middle of the town square, had previously smacked her boyfriend Cameron for some minor verbal offense that I can no longer remember.

Almost as if she's been wanting to prove the now-deceased Nick Fallon wrong, in the last several months, Abigail has bitch slapped no less than four major characters: EJ DiMera, Eve Donovan, Sami Brady and Chad DiMera. Perhaps her palm action would have carried a little more weight if everyone watching didn't know full well that each recipient of her hand probably could have wiped the Horton Town Square with Abigail's blonde hair with one palm tied behind their back. Memo to Abigail: Next time you want to prove how tough you are, try words, but preferably not ones as hokey as...

2. "Lets make a clean break" Do people say this in real life? Everyone says it on TV, but I've never actually heard an actual person say it. Or maybe it's just that everybody I know is fully aware of the unfortunate fact that break-ups are always messy, no matter how final and supposedly "clean" you make the break.

3. "Let's make a fresh start" On the flip side of the break-up cliche is the getting-back-together one. Sadly, an elephant never forgets, and neither do people, as anyone who has ever had an ancient crime thrown in their face after committing a new one already knows.

4. "I just want you to be happy." Or put less passive-aggressively, I don't approve of what you're doing, but hey, it's your life. Oh, how generous. It's even less believable when exes say it to each other. Nobody actually wants an ex to be happy right after the break-up. Suffering shows you really cared.

5. Smoking in public, inside and out I'm tired of not being able to enjoy a meal al fresco on a beautiful day without having to beg at least one fellow patron not to position his or her cigarette so that the smoke doesn't blow directly into my face. If you're going to slowly kill yourself by sucking on those things, at least have the courtesy to do it in the privacy of your own stinky home.

6. Loud music in restaurants and gyms Do you go out to eat to enjoy good food and excellent conversation, or to listen to a blaring soundtrack that prevents you from being able to actually hear the latter? There's a difference between creating ambiance and making noise, a line that's crossed well before you get to 5 on the volume meter. As for when I'm working out, I don't need the roar of the gym's dreadful mix tapes drowning out the music on my iPod that actually motivates me to keep going.

7. The impossible to decipher CAPTCHA I see the point: Websites need to be able to differentiate between humans and computers, but if the average human can't read the CAPTCHA text, well, then what's the point?

8. Automated answering systems Of course, companies have no problem using computers to do what it would be far more expedient to have humans do, like answering the phone. Even after you've spent minutes following the prompts, typing in your account number and waiting to speak to a human being, the human being still almost always asks you to repeat your account number. So I repeat: Well, then what's the point?

9. Auto correct It occurs to me that I spend so much time correcting auto correct (In what world does H-E... automatically lead to "Heuristic"?), that I'd be better off just typing out every word myself. You know, sort of like what I'm doing right now.

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