Archive for March 16, 2013

  • Jo Hale/Getty Images

Jo Hale/Getty Images

In What Have You Done For Us Lately?, we examine the recent output by legendary artists. Yeah, we’re happy when they return with a new album… but really, just how happy are we? We’ll gauge their output since 2000 (or, for less prolific artists, their last five albums), take a hard look and see how their recent material has held up… and maybe help you to find a few gems that you overlooked. 

In this (or any) context, David Bowie is an interesting case. Over the past few decades, he’s been quick to align himself with younger, hipper acts including Nine Inch Nails, Arcade Fire and TV On The Radio, just to name a few. Critics treat him as if he’s more creatively vital than his peers. But is he? Like Neil Young, Bowie seems to be graded on a curve, based on the premise that he has retained his relevance and his edge more than, say, Elton John or Paul McCartney. He certainly cultivates that perception. His latest album, The Next Day, has been greeted enthusiastically by fans and critics: Rolling Stone gave it four stars, calling it “a triumphant album.”Entertainment Weekly gave it a B, saying it’s “an excellent reminder that Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, and the lunatic who sang Christmas songs with Bing Crosby have all been coexisting in the same brain for decades.” And Pitchfork gave it a 7.6, noting that Bowie’s “self-aware attraction to reinvention has served him well.”

In the 1980s, Bowie became a massive commercial force after teaming with Nile Rodgers on the Let’s Dance album, which put him smack in the middle of the MTV-driven mainstream.  He spent much of the decade in the middle of the road on Tonight, his “Dancing In The Streets” duet with Mick Jagger, his role in the Jim Henson filmLabyrinth and finally, the Never Let Me Down album, which did just that, across the board, impressing neither radio programmers nor his longtime fans.

In 1989, Bowie rebooted his career by forming a band, Tin Machine. After two albums, Bowie reunited with Nile Rodgers for a dance oriented album, Black Tie White Noise. And that brings us to what he’s done for us (relatively) lately. Read more here: What Have You Done For Us Lately, David Bowie? « News.

Outside – 1995

David Bowie Outside

Outside saw Bowie reunite with Berlin-era collaborator Brian Eno, and positioned him as the forefather of the industrial rock that was hugely popular at the time. Indeed, Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor remixed “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson,” and NIN opened on Bowie’s tour.  The album showed that Bowie still had edge – “Hallo Spaceboy” bordered on thrash metal – but for the most part, lacked great songs and buckled under the weight of the concept album’s lyrics.

Critical Response: It seemed like many critics had a hard time slamming the album at the time. Rolling Stone gave it three out of five stars, but admitted that the concept album’s “superfluous” lyrics “damn near sink the record.” Entertainment Weekly gave it a B-, saying, “Outside sounds like fodder for an industrial-music Broadway show based on Blade Runner.”
Sales: Outside peaked at  No. 21 on the Billboard 200 album chart, and “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson” hit No. 20 on Billboard‘s Modern Rock Tracks chart.
What stuck: During the Outside tour, Bowie played most of the album; on subsequent tours, he mainly played “Hallo Spaceboy” and “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson.” But “The Motel” would show up in his 2003 live sets.

Earthling – 1997

David Bowie Earthling

Bowie recorded 1997′s Earthling with his touring band just weeks after the Outside tour wrapped. Featuring Tin Machine’s Reeves Gabrels on guitar, Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust-era sideman Mike Garson on keyboards, drummer Zack Alford and bassist Gail Ann Dorsey, the album was influenced by the drum-and-bass dance music of the late ’90s, and as a result sounds a bit dated now. Still, most fans agreed that it was an improvement on Outside. And Trent Reznor returned with another remix, this time for “I’m Afraid Of Americans.”

Critical Response: Rolling Stone gave it three and a half stars, saying, “If Bowie is not the art-rock pioneer he was in the ’70s, his enduring enthusiasm for new musical adventures can be applauded.” Entertainment Weekly was more in favor of the album, giving it a solid A.
Sales: While it fared better critically than OutsideEarthling only hit No. 39 on the Billboard 200 album chart; “I’m Afraid Of Americans” hit No. 29 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart and  No. 24 on the (then-called) Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales chart.
What stuck: “I’m Afraid Of Americans” is easily the album’s standout track (the Reznor remix was more popular than the album version, and even got a music video co-starring Bowie and Reznor), remaining in Bowie’s setlists for years. “Battle For Britain (The Letter)” got some play as well, but the album has a number of gems, including “Seven Years In Tibet” and “Dead Man Walking.”

…hours – 1999

David Bowie … hours

The cover of  hours… hinted at where Bowie was going. The short-haired Bowie pictured on the cover of the high-energy Earthling lay (seemingly) dead in the arms of a newer, longer-haired, mellower Bowie. And while the album had at least one rocker – “The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell” – most of the album was more contemplative, even adult (if not “adult contemporary”). The first single, “Thursday’s Child,” is one of Bowie’s loveliest ballads, but sadly, didn’t find an audience.

Critical ResponseRolling Stone gave it four stars, saying, “As always, Bowie’s eccentric sense of melody twists around the ear like a space oddity, getting under the skin, plucking the heartstrings and stirring up feelings of alienation we never knew we had,” and also that it is “an album that improves with each new hearing.” Try it yourself and see.
Sales: A dud: It only reached No. 47 on the Billboard 200 album chart.
What stuck: Within a few years, Bowie dropped all …hours songs from his set. A shame: “Thursday’s Child” and “Seven” hold up to his great ’70s ballads.

Heathen – 2002

David Bowie Heathen

Bowie reunited with producer Tony Visconti for the first time since 1980′s Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) for this one, and positioned it as a sequel to 1977′s Low (also produced by Visconti). To make the point, he celebrated Heathen‘s release by playing both albums in their entirety at New York City’s Roseland Ballroom.

Critical Response: The critics were definitely on board with this one.Rolling Stone gave it three and a half stars, saying that Heathen “is the sound of Bowie essentially covering himself – to splendid, often moving effect.” In other words, Bowie wasn’t doing anything really new… but they liked it. Entertainment Weekly gave a B+, whilePitchfork gave it a 7.8 out of 10, calling it (somewhat vaguely) “the best Bowie release in years.”
Sales: The public seemed a little more interested in this one, and the album hit No. 14 on the Billboard 200 album chart. A remix of “Everyone Says ‘Hi’” reached No. 42 on Billboard‘s Dance/Club Play Songs chart.
What Stuck: The real keepers on this album were the covers: Neil Young’s “I’ve Been Waiting For You” (featuring Dave Grohl on guitar) and especially the Pixies’ “Cactus.” Bowie kept a bunch of songs from this album in his setlists for years to come, including “Afraid,” “Heathen (The Rays)” and “Slip Away,” showing that he felt more strongly about the album than he did about, say, …hours.

Reality – 2003

David Bowie Reality

Bowie clearly enjoyed his reunion with Tony Visconti on Heathen, and stuck with the producer for the follow-up (Visconti also produced The Next Day). The album sonically recalled Bowie and Visconti’s work onScary Monsters, but with more grown-up lyrics.

Critical Response: Rolling Stone gave it three stars. Pitchfork graded it a 7.3, half a point lower than what they gave Heathen, saying, “Bowie’s musical ideas, not filtered through any sort of trend-grab, are unfailingly unique, and that alone should cement his continued role as vibrant, modern artist for years to come.” No one knew that he would fade from the scene for nearly a decade.
SalesReality hit No. 29 on the Billboard 200 album chart.
What Stuck: Bowie hasn’t performed often since wrapping up his tour for this album, but it’s easy to see him keeping “New Killer Star” in his sets.

The Verdict: While nothing Bowie has done in the past two decades has approached the level of genius he regularly hit in the ’70s, he has a number of great songs that easily hold up to his classics. If you’ve slept on recent Bowie, check out “Hallo Spaceboy,” “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson,” “I’m Afraid Of Americans,” “Thursday’s Child,” “Seven,” “Dead Man Walking,” “Cactus” and “New Killer Star.”

Photo of Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix makes a No. 2 debut on the album chart while Pink surges in single sales. Here’s a look at this week’s Nielsen SoundScan numbers or read more at

HOT DEBUT FOR HENDRIX: Jimi Hendrix, one of the few musicians not performing at SXSW this week, arrives at No. 2 on this week’s chart with People, Hell and Angels, a compilation of unreleased songs from the late rocker’s vaults. The set sold 72,000 copies its first week in stores, a slip from the 95,000 copies Hendrix’s last compilation, 2010’s Valleys of Neptune, sold its first week out. But that album didn’t chart as high, peaking at No. 4, which is still pretty good for a guy who died in 1970. The last posthumous release to chart as high as People, Hell and Angels wasMichael Jackson’s This Is It, which debuted at No. 1 in 2009 with a first-week tally of 373,000 sales.

REASON RISING: The strongest gainer on this week’s Digital Songs chart is P!nk’s “Just Give Me a Reason,” which features a vocal assist from fun.’s Nate Reuss. The song is No. 8 on this week’s chart, up from No. 25 last week and No. 62 two weeks ago. It sold 122,000 copies this week, a 91 percent sales bump from the week prior. On the same chart, “Harlem Shake” drops one more spot to No. 4, while Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ grampa style anthem “Thrift Shop” rules the chart for a ninth straight week. Meanwhile, the duo’s “Can’t Hold Us” rises to No. 19 on this week’s chart, up from No. 38 last week.

SPRING BREAK FOREVER: Blocking Hendrix from top spot on this week’s chart is country party dude Luke Bryan, who debuts at No. 1 with Spring Break… Here to Party, a compilation album of tracks culled from his series of Spring Break-themed EPs. The album, which includes songs such as “Cold Beer Drinker” and “Take My Drunk Ass Home,” sold 150,000 copies, topping the 145,000 copy bow of his last album, 2011’s Tailgates & Tanlines. Bryan, 36, may be getting a little old for Spring Break, but hey man, we’re not trying to be a “Buzzkill” – which, consequently, is also one of the songs on the album. And you thought James Franco was the king of Spring Break this year.

PLATINUM JUKEBOX: Last week’s No. 1, Bruno Mars’ Unorthodox Jukebox, slips to No. 3 on this week’s chart. But its 51,000 sales push it past the 1 million sales marker, bringing its 13-week total to 1.011 million sales. Mars, 27, has also sold 5.1 million digital singles from the album, including 1.5 million copies of “When I Was Your Man” (No. 2 on this week’s Digital Songs chart) and 3.6 million copies of the album’s first single “Locked Out of Heaven” (No. 17 this week). Mars’ top selling singles to date are “Just the Way You Are” (5.7 million copies and counting) and “Grenade” (5.5 million). This kid will catch a break one of these days, we’re sure of it.

NINE INCH NAILED: Welcome Oblivion, the debut album from Trent Reznor’s How to Destroy Angels, debuts at No. 30 on this week’s albums chart, selling 12,000 copies. The band will go on a limited tour this spring, before Reznor hits the road with his reformed Nine Inch Nails this summer.

[Photo: Getty Images]


  • The Incredible Burt WonderstoneWarner Bros.

How much of an underrated presence has Steve Buscemi been in all of our lives? Over the span of 25 years, he’s gone from “King of the That Guys” (current co-Kings:Bruce McGill and James Cromwell) to “Oh, right — that’s an actor named Steve Buscemi” to “Steve Buscemi” to “Golden Globe-Winning Steve Buscemi” to, finally, “Champion of Our Hearts Steve Buscemi.” Of all of the Buscemier actors out there, Steve Buscemi is easily the Buscemiest. That much is certain, and that’s why we’re excited for his role in “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.” A little more difficult to determine? The Buscemiest roles of Steve Buscemi’s career. See below and read more here:

1. ‘Desperado’ (1995)

It frankly doesn’t get any Buscemier than Buscemi in “Desperado” as (according to the credits) “Buscemi,” where he Buscemis the f**k out of the patrons of a grimy Mexican bar at the beginning of Robert Rodriguez’s Buscemified landmark second film. Not only does he rock a sweet Buscemi-esque faded goate but he makes everyone super uncomfortable and rants about the legend of Antonio Banderas’ character in the most Buscemi way imaginable. (NOTE: As you may have figured, Buscemi’s “Buscemiest” roles pretty just mean his most memorable roles. But ask yourself this: What’s a more fun adjective: “most memorable” or “Buscemiest”? (silence) That’s what I thought.)

2. ‘Armageddon’ (1998)

Leave it to Buscemi to be the only actor in Hollywood who can make a character in a Michael Bay movie be actually funny instead of very, very strongly attempt a character to be funny and wildly fail. Indeed, in a dramatic disaster flick featuring such caricatures of themselves as Bruce Willis, late ’90s Ben Affleck, Michael Clarke Duncan and Billy Bob Thornton, Buscemi is the predictable scene stealer. Above we have a short montage of Buscemi rocking houses, beginning with Will Patton and William Fichtner fighting each other because they weren’t named the co-Kings of the That Guys mentioned at the beginning of this post.

3. ‘The Wedding Singer‘ (1998)

Buscemi has established himself a home in many an Adam Sandler film as “The super weird guy with patchy facial hair who has two minutes of screen time,” of which none were arguably more memorable than “Dave Veltri” in “The Wedding Singer.” Here, he drunkenly rambles to a wedding crowd during his Best Man speech, complete with descriptions of prostitution and sibling inferiority and a part down the middle of his hair … and we’re all better people for having watched it.

4. ‘Fargo’ (1996)

No one complements a Buscemi character just by silently making weird, drugged-out faces better than Peter Stormare, and their back-and-forths (along with an Oscar-winning performance from Frances McDormand, of course) are pretty much the reason to see “Fargo.” Above, we have small-time criminals Buscemi and Stormare Buscemi-ing and Stormaring the f**k out of each other in a conversation about how Stormare never speaks. It’s hard to imagine this scene wasn’t written directly for these two particular actors by the Coen Brothers, and even if it wasn’t, the Coens have earned enough respect that they can say it was and no one would argue.

5. ‘Con Air’ (1997)

We as a nation have let ourselves down. It’s my fault. It’s your fault. It is, yes, Obama’s fault. “Con Air” isn’t typically mentioned as one of the great films of the 1990s, and we each have to take our fair share of the blame. John Malkovich as a bad guy named “Cyrus the Virus.” Nic Cage rocking flowing long hair and just being Nic Cage at the height of his powers (1995-2002 or so). And yes, Steve Buscemi as Garland Greene. Fast forward to the :32 second part of the above clip for what may be the best part of the whole movie: Some nameless officer looks at Buscemi and asks out loud to no one, “What the f**k is that?” to which someone responds off camera, “That’s Garland Greene, man.” Oh, okay.

6. ‘Big Fish’ (2003)

In “Big Fish” as Norther Winslow — Spectre, Alabama’s resident poet laureate — Buscemi got to flaunt all of his Buscemisms under the guise of a down-home Southern boy who can’t actually write poetry, and it (of course) only adds to the magic of the movie itself. As if director Tim Burton felt bad not giving Buscemi a character that had deeper emotional issues a-la other Buscemi roles, Norther robs banks later in the movie for fun. Safe to say that wouldn’t have happened had Buscemi passed on the role and Billy Zane had taken it.

7. ‘Billy Madison‘ (1995)

Long before Adam Sandler stopped giving a flying f**k about the quality of the movies he produces, there were those like “Billy Madison,” wherein Buscemi steals the entire movie with less than two minutes of screen time in the scene above, featuring the aftermath of the phone call Billy makes to him apologizing for bullying him in high school, and, of course, Buscemi’s favor to Billy at the end of the movie because of it. “Man, I’m glad I called that guy.” So are we, Adam. So are we.

8. ‘Reservoir Dogs’ (1992)

It’s hard not to watch the scene above, where Buscemi as Mr. Pink delivers what has become the standard Tarantino “the sole purpose of this rant is to reveal a character’s deeply held beliefs about a relatively insignificant issue” monologue, and wonder why Buscemi wasn’t cast in future Tarantino movies with the exception of “Pulp Fiction” as the waiter dressed as Buddy Holly. Then again, who was he going to play? One of Bill’s minions? Aldo Raine? Stuntman Mike? Actually, he would have been awesome as Stuntman Mike. For shame, Quentin.

9. ‘The Big Lebowski‘ (1998)

The quintessential, Buscemiest Buscemi role of them all, “Lebowski” could have realistically garnered acting Oscars for each of Jeff Bridges, John Goodman and Buscemi, if we’re really being honest with ourselves, but you can understand the Academy for paying more attention to “Shakespeare in Love” that year (vomits). It’s funny to watch this movie — now 15 years old, which is a good reminder that we’re all going to die one day — and contrast Buscemi’s “Donny” with his current role as Nucky Thompson on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.” Just goes to show the man’s range and talents. We are all Buscemites.


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