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News from the world of music, entertainment, communications, and technology.

NEWS ARCHIVE 2002 JULY TO DECEMBER

Bah & the Humbugs Bring Home “Christmas Tree From Hell”

This year Bah & the Humbugs finally did studio recordings of several favorite songs from their live set. Their new CD Christmas Tree From Hell features the title song sung by Paul V. Patanella along with the studio versions of “Hurricane Santa” and “Holly Danger.”

The CD also includes a new version of “Merry Christmas or Else” and new songs contributed by Amy Guskin and Vance Lehmkuhl.

For 15 years Bah & the Humbugs have been performing and recording their own original Christmas songs. They had their biggest success last year when five songs reached the top 10 on several mp3.com charts.

2002-12-01

Boston, Corporate America

The Boston style, delivered with laser-like precision on four previous albums, has changed dramatically on their fifth album Corporate America. Much of the change can be credited to new songwriter Anthony Cosmo, the son of singer Fran Cosmo, who brings a fresh outlook to the band’s music. But even Tom Scholz’s songwriting shows a more diverse perspective than before. This is nowhere more obvious than on the title track, in which Tom blasts the short-sightedness and lack of integrity he sees in big business culture. “When do we evacuate to outer space?” the song asks, and the evacuation is depicted on the album cover with Boston’s trademark guitar flying saucer 1,000 miles above North America.

With the addition of Kimberley Dahme, the return of Brad Delp, and Tom Scholz’s own slight involvement in vocals, Boston now consists of five singer-guitarists (along with keyboardist Gary Pihl, who appears on only one track). In another band, such a lineup would be a mistake, but with Boston’s emphasis on layered guitars and vocals, it might actually make sense.

The opening track, “I Had a Good Time,” is the only track that sounds just like a classic Boston tune, but the remaining songs do not disappoint. “Corporate America” is a compelling high-energy rocker, and Anthony Cosmo’s three songs have an infectious pop appeal that might remind you of Oasis. All in all, it’s a surprising turn for Boston, but an album that ultimately lives up to the high standards of music and production that you would expect from a Boston album.

2002-12-01

Notes

Several more optical disk formats were announced or demonstrated last month. There are now around 100 seemingly viable format proposals (at least it seems like that many) in a market that might not support any of them. The tremendous number of proposed formats shows how quickly digital laser technology has advanced since the introduction of the current CD, MD, and DVD formats. The challenge for companies proposing new formats is the technology could move on again even before a new format has a chance to get off the ground. Optical disks are used for music, movies, and computer data.

The new Special Edition of Alice Cooper’s album Dragontown is a 2 CD set that adds a new studio, some live tracks and remixes, and two music videos.

Shania Twain’s new album Up! was released last month and promptly hit number 1 on the album charts. It is Shania’s first album since Come On Over in 1997.

The Mozilla Organization released Mozilla 1.2 at the end of November. In our testing, we found that the stability of Mozilla has improved to the point where it can be a reasonable choice of browser for the general public. Mozilla still crashes more than you would hope, but not more often than Internet Explorer, and Mozilla does not share the many security flaws that have plagued Internet Explorer along with Microsoft’s Internet applications generally. Mozilla 1.2 is more advanced than Netspace Navigator and more standard than commercial browsers such as Opera. However, Mozilla 1.2 is not yet supported by Macromedia Flash, which means you cannot use it to view Flash content on web pages, and there are reports of continuing problems with its Java and JavaScript implementations, although we didn’t find any such problems in our tests.

2002-12-01

These Two Album Releases Are Both Up

Two pop stars have new albums with the same one-word title, Up. Peter Gabriel regularly uses two-letter titles for his albums — previous albums were called Us and So. Shania Twain’s new album Up! is said to be a collection of upbeat, happy, smiley songs — although that’s not exactly a departure for the bubbly country singer whose previous hits include “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” and “That Don’t Impress Me Much.”

Both artists have the potential to reach the top of the album charts, but Peter Gabriel has a eight-week head start. Shania Twain’s album is scheduled for release November 19.

2002-11-01

Wal-Mart Boosts Linux

Linux, the free open-source operating system that is rapidly becoming the new operating system standard, is getting support from cost-cutting retail giant Wal-Mart. By using a free operating system and leaving out all extras, Wal-Mart has lowered its price for a base desktop configuration to under $200. Wal-Mart is now offering the Lycoris version of Linux, which claims to duplicate much of the look and feel of the popular but pricey Microsoft Windows operating system.

2002-11-01

Notes

Roxette singer Marie Fredriksson is recovering after sustaining injuries in a fall at her home on September 11. The cause of the fall might have been “a small tumour in the back of her head” found in subsequent medical tests. Roxette have canceled their tour and promotional plans and are hoping for Marie’s swift recovery after any surgery that might be necessary.

Philips is showing prototypes of a 30-millimeter 1-gigabyte blue-laser optical disk. The shorter wavelength of blue lasers, compared to the infrared and red lasers used for CDs, allows more data to be stored on a disk one fourth the diameter of a CD.

In an coincidence that can only be described as ironically appropriate, the new Boston album Corporate America is scheduled for release on Tuesday, November 5 — Election Day in the United States. It has been seven years since Boston’s last album, Walk On, but an MTV report suggests that the band is a year ahead of schedule — Boston’s third and fourth albums each took eight years to do.

Rick Aster has a book release this month. The fourth edition of his book Professional SAS Programmer’s Pocket Reference comes out November 26.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is being challenged in court by a consumer advocate who claims its restrictions on copying are too broad.

A massive denial-of-service attack on the Internet’s root name servers failed to disrupt Internet connections last month.

An X11 version of the OpenOffice.org office suite is now available for Mac OS X. The X11 user interface is rarely used in Mac, so work continues on a native Aqua version of OpenOffice.org. In statements in July and August, Apple and Sun suggested they were working together on this project and expected to deliver a product by January.

Santana’s new album Shaman debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart and looks to duplicate the success of their 1999 album Supernatural.

2002-11-01

Notes

The Green Beings got their first national radio exposure when their song “Leftovers” was played on Dr. Demento’s weekly program.

People Are Wrong!, a new rock opera written by John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants, just finished a brief run at Joe’s Pub in New York City.

The most successful book series in recent years might be adding a new title soon. Author J.K. Rowling says she is close to completing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The long-awaited new Harry Potter book is likely to be released next year.

Clear Channel is preparing to launch a New Music Network at www.clearchannelnewmusicnetwork.com. The site says it will be a forum for new musicians to promote their music.

Tower Records has entered the online record-selling business in a big way. The new retail web site has much the same merchandise mix as Tower Records’ retail locations.

Peter Gabriel has just released his first album in many years, Up, and is heading out on a major concert tour. The new album has been described as a serious, introspective exploration of the big issues of life.

Yes, always a band to try out new technologies, has released a DVD-Audio version of their 1972 album Fragile.

2002-10-01

“2” Seen at MTV Video Music Awards

MTV used this year’s Video Music Awards broadcast to promote its 24-hour music video channel, MTV2. The awards presentation included an MTV2 Award for the first time. And the show included short live performances by two bands seen regularly on MTV2, but never before on MTV — the Hives and the Vines.

The show as a whole was more laid-back than usual. Perhaps the move from September to August found music stars and fans in more of a vacation mood. Jimmy Fallon demonstrated impressive abilities as a comic character actor but generated little excitement in his role as host. Rainy weather dampened the event to some extent, but did not deter Avril Lavigne or Bruce Springsteen, who turned in impressive live performances outdoors beforehand.

The stars gave fashion-watchers relatively little to discuss. Christina Aguilera showed up in an impossibly short skirt to remind fans that her new album, called Stripped, will be out soon. An equally shocking sight occurred during the show when, for his live set, rapper Eminem traded in his usual shabby athletic attire for a politician’s suit. Jennifer Lopez showed her newly shortened hairstyle, while Pink’s hair color barely lived up to her name.

In a closely guarded secret, the show ended with a live set by Guns N’ Roses, a mostly new band put together by singer Axl Rose. In an backstage interview, Axl said that the band’s album Chinese Democracy, which was first promised more than two years ago, is on the way, but would not be coming soon.

Other live highlights included the first solo performance from N*SYNC member Justin Timberlake, Sheryl Crow playing piano, and a Shakira dive into the moshpit.

Eminem topped the awards list, which also included Pink, Linkin Park, the White Stripes, No Doubt, Michelle Branch, Avril Lavigne, Moby, Kylie Minogue, Jennifer Lopez, among others.

And the MTV2 Award? It went to Dashboard Confessional for their song “Screaming Infidelities.”

2002-09-01

Def Leppard, X

Fans of pop metal band Def Leppard need not be alarmed when they hear the band’s newfound pure pop sound on the radio. True, the new album X often emphasizes vocals and bass instead of guitar and drums. It features more acoustic guitar strumming and picking than electric power chords. But all the essential elements of the Def Leppard sound are there, the guitar licks still shred with the best of them, and there is no arguing with songs like the leadoff single “Now.”

Actually, X marks a return to the meticulous production approach that Robert John “Mutt” Lange gave Def Leppard on albums like Hysteria. But unlike those 1980s albums, there are no over-the-top synthesizer parts or bizarre studio tricks to prop up the songs on X. This is basically just the band. It might be pop, but it’s the kind of raw, real pop that music fans haven’t heard much of in the last few years.

Def Leppard: http://www.defleppard.com

2002-09-01

Fax.com Faces the Music

Fax.com is in hot water for its unsolicited-fax broadcast service. Its business model of faxing advertisements to people who did not request them is illegal, and the FCC has assessed a $5 million fine, the largest fine ever for unsolicited telecommunications.

But the fine is a slap on the wrist compared to the $2 trillion sought in a series of class-action lawsuits filed in California. If the plaintiffs ultimately prevail, Fax.com, its internet service provider, and its advertisers could be liable for more money than any of them possess. The money would go to individuals, businesses, and government agencies who received unsolicited faxes from Fax.com.

Several other companies in the unsolicited-fax broadcast business have been put out of business by fines and lawsuits.

2002-09-01

One Year Later, Television Advertisers Avoid 9/11

There are multiple reasons why September 11 figures to be a difficult day for television broadcasters. First, there is the memory of what happened last September 11 — a coordinated bombing attack that destroyed the World Trade Center and one side of the Pentagon and killed thousands of people. There is the difficult question of how to remember that event in the day’s television programming. There is also a chance, although experts disagree on how likely this is, that there could be new violence intended to mark the anniversary of the previous year’s attacks.

Broadcasters must answer these questions without the help of their sponsors. Few, if any, television advertisers want their products and brand names seen in connection with the worst military disaster in recent memory. Actually, advertisers are going to some trouble to move major campaigns more than a week away from September 11.

Many television channels have decided that broadcasting without commercials for part or all of September 11 may be their best solution. In some cases, historical vignettes could take the place of commercial breaks. Major broadcasts that would have taken place around September 11 have been rescheduled for other weeks.

Don’t expect much high-powered television programming on September 11. Broadcasts that revisit the disaster are likely to be somber as they tread the thin line between remembering a disaster and celebrating it. Television could have an unusually small audience as viewers turn their sets off, either to remember the disaster in their own way or to escape the stress of the day-long reminders of what happened a year ago.

2002-09-01

Notes

Record sales continue to fall. RIAA reports U.S. sales of prerecorded music for the first half of 2002 down slightly from last year’s already-low level. The likely cause? The major labels’ smaller-than-ever rosters of recording artists.

The Mozilla Organization released version 1.1 of their free, standard web browser ahead of schedule, but in our tests, the new version crashes more frequently than version 1.0. Most users should wait for version 1.2.

Boston say they have basically finished a new album, Corporate America. No release date is set.

They Might Be Giants have a lot to celebrate this year: 20 years as a band, a Grammy for their song “Boss of Me,” a forthcoming movie, GIGANTIC (A Tale of Two Johns), a new kid-oriented web site at www.giantkid.net, and a successful summer tour that, for the first time, was a mix of kid-friendly and adult-oriented shows.

2002-09-01

City HallYes Day CeremonyEd SciakyAudienceStage

Philadelphia Declares August 8 Yes Day

The city of Philadelphia recognized one of its favorite rock bands when it issued a proclamation declaring August 8 as Yes Day.

The observance was announced at a ceremony on August 7 at Philadelphia City Hall. The ceremony in Conversational Hall drew 150 people, mostly fans, including some who arrived more than five hours before the event’s scheduled 1 p.m. start. Some fans displayed banners, posters, and signs.

In announcing Yes Day, Mayor John Street cited “the great contribution that Yes has made to our city” and specifically mentioned Yes’s record of having more sold-out concerts in Philadelphia than any other band. Three members of Yes, Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, and Rick Wakeman, were on hand to accept the proclamation on behalf of the band.

The short ceremony opened with a speech by Philadelphia talk radio personality Michael Smerconish. His prepared remarks seemed designed to use as many Yes song and album titles as he could fit in.

Smerconish introduced city council member Rick Mariano, who told a story of going to a Yes concert in Philadelphia in the late 1970s. After Mayor Street presented the proclamation, Jon Anderson spoke briefly to accept the honor. News crews recorded the event for television and radio.

On Yes Day itself, Yes played a concert in nearby Camden. During the concert, singer Jon Anderson recounted the Yes Day ceremony of the day before and remarked, “It has always been an incredible feeling to come back to Philadelphia and play for you guys.” The show, part of a summer tour, drew over 10,000 fans to the Tweeter Center at the Waterfront.

Yes formed in 1969 and has been recording and touring almost continuously ever since. Over the years, Philadelphia has been one of its most successful tour stops.

Fans hanging Yes bannerGot Yes? bannerYes fan posterYes logo

2002-08-11

Yes Day in Philadelphia

The city of Philadelphia is observing Yes Day on August 8, in honor of the rock band that has sold out the greatest number of concerts in the city. Yes has played dozens of concerts in Philadelphia, and it was a Philadelphia concert promoter who organized the band’s Union tour a decade ago. Yes’s current tour takes them to Philadelphia on August 8 for a concert at the Tweeter Center across the river in Camden, New Jersey.

2002-08-01

The End of Media Empire Dot-Com

Just three years ago, it might have seemed as if the Internet-oriented “dot-com” companies were taking over the media industry. But two recent corporate shakeups may indicate that that era is over.

At Bertelsmann, parent company of BMG and more recently, Napster, a sweeping corporate reorganization brought in a new CEO and eliminated several executives who had led the company’s experiments with Internet-based media.

At AOL Time Warner, Time Warner executives have taken charge of the corporation and are puzzling over what to do with AOL. The struggling Internet-access market leader shows little profit potential, but it also isn’t a candidate to be spun off or sold because it is thought to have no market value as a separate company. The Securities and Exchange Commission and Justice Department are currently investigating accounting practices at AOL.

Another change in management occurred at Vivendi Universal, where CEO Jean-Marie Messier resigned, ending a period of experimentation with “new media.”

Meanwhile in the telecom industry, WorldCom, parent company of MCI Long Distance, filed for bankruptcy protection last month. MCI had been a profitable long-distance provider, but that profit evaporated as soon as it expanded its operations to such areas as Internet access and cellular phone service to form WorldCom. Massive accounting fraud that recently came to light made it possible for the struggling WorldCom to create the illusion of profit, but that illusion vanished when the accounting fraud was disclosed. It was creditors’ responses to the accounting revelations that forced WorldCom to seek bankruptcy protection.

2002-08-01

Notes

“Weird Al” Yankovic and his band have begun tracking for a new album. The album is said to be at least a year away.

Looking for new ways to protect their records, the major record labels are backing new legislation in the U.S. Senate that would make it legal for a record company to disable or damage the computer of someone who they believed had made unauthorized copies of its records. The bill does not spell out any specific mechanism or target, but it speculated that the RIAA might hire computer experts to break into and shut down peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, or major record labels might place destructive computer programs on ordinary audio CDs.

Pressplay, a digital music web site sponsored by several major record labels, is switching to an unlimited-download pricing scheme this month. Pressplay is disappointed by low traffic and is hoping a new subscription plan that provides unlimited music for an annual fee under $200 will draw in more subscribers. Previously, Pressplay’s offerings have limited customers to 50 songs a month, and this might have seemed a significant limitation for those who remembered the unlimited-music approach of pirate music services such as Napster.

Web radio stations are shutting down after a U.S. government panel ordered them to pay a high royalty rate for the records they play. The rate of .07 cent per listener per song could cost a typical music webcaster $2 million a year in record licensing — perhaps not a realistic expense in an industry where revenues are considerably less than that. One record label, Artemis Records, is trying to ease the transition for web radio by waiving its royalties for the next year.

Singers Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth, both former lead singers for rock band Van Halen, recently completed a six-week tour of the United States. The initially surprising tour combination on the Sam & Dave Tour makes sense when you consider that it is the only way fans can hear a concert that features authentic Van Halen music. The three remaining members of Van Halen have been silent since firing their third lead singer, Gary Cherone, three years ago.

2002-08-01

Notes

Apple Computer is acquiring Emagic, a Germany-based developer of music production software. Emagic is best known for Logic, a timeline-based program for recording and editing music. Emagic will operate as a subsidiary of Apple.

Jewel is strumming again. Injuries sustained when she was thrown from a horse prevented her from playing guitar for more than a month, and permitted only finger-picking playing techniques on her European tour. But on June 26, in a concert in Upper Darby, PA, she showed her full range of playing techniques, including strumming. She is still limiting her guitar playing to less than 30 minutes of her two-hour show.

Creed’s Weathered tour, canceled this spring after a member of the band was injured in an automobile accident, will be underway again on July 11. Lead singer Scott Stapp sustained a serious back injury during a scheduled break from the tour on April 19. On May 31, his doctors cleared him for touring and the band began scheduling the new tour dates.

Death: Who bassist John Entwistle was found dead in his hotel room June 27, the day before The Who’s latest tour was set to begin. The start of the tour was delayed until July 1. One of the most influential players in the short history of the electric bass, Entwistle’s reserved stage presence belied his groundbreaking playing technique. He will forever be remembered standing still on stage and showing no hint of effort while playing the most improbable bass parts.

Fans are disappointed with the new Madonna web site, madonna.com. Madonna pulled her previous site, madonnamusic.com, a month earlier to dramatize the change, but the new site failed to live up to the hype. With a very awkward layout and navigation and much less content than before, the site has fans hoping the actual new web site is still to come. Madonna, these days, is acting in a theater production by night and recording her next album during the day.

2002-07-01

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