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NEWS ARCHIVE 2004 JANUARY TO JUNE

Kids’ Zong of the Week Looks to Top Download Chart

Neither Kids’ Zong of the Week nor download.music.com has launched officially yet, but that isn’t stopping Kids’ Zong of the Week from trying to be the top children's music act on download.music.com.

With just one song, “Here Come the Skunks,” they're already close to the top in cumulative downloads. With the release of a second song and the help of a few thousand more fans, they think they can take the top position.

An offshoot of Zong of the Week, Kids’ Zong of the Week promises one entertaining song for kids per week after it launches later this year.

Look for “Here Come the Skunks” and a new song likely to be released this month, in the children's section at download.music.com.

2004-06-01

Notes

Rick Aster ran his first marathon May 16, when he was one of over 500 finishers in the inaugural Delaware Marathon. Rick says the training he did to strengthen his legs for the event will also help him play tighter grooves on the drum set by making his bass drum timing more precise.

“Bun E. is OK” — that’s the word from Cheap Trick's management. The drummer collapsed after a show on May 24 and was hospitalized overnight for dehydration and exhaustion.

Oasis surprised the world by announcing that Zak Starkey would be their new drummer. Oasis recently dismissed their longtime drummer Alan White.

Yes drummer Alan White (not to be confused with the former Oasis drummer of the same name) is playing an impossible line of 10 bass drums in his kit for the current Yes tour. Eight of the drums are being robotically struck by “Robo-Kicks” designed specifically for this tour. The reason for so many drums? It’s part of the large-scale visual design put together by artist Roger Dean for the first Yes arena tour in ages.

Van Halen are preparing to tour with lead singer Sammy Hagar for the first time in a decade.

Pearl Jam has put together their third concert video DVD, still without the benefit of a trained video expert. The band's touring crew operated the cameras when they weren’t busy with their regular tour duties, and they put together the resulting audio and video on computers while still on tour, during the otherwise tedious gaps between setup and show. The new release, Live at the Garden captures a single concert on a 2-DVD set in a way that the band says is true to the music.

2004-06-01

Melissa Etheridge, Lucky

You can count on rocker Melissa Etheridge to deliver a solid, professional album every time, but what you can’t predict is the emotional angle of her songs, which may change completely from one album to the next. Lucky finds Melissa feeling jaded about love — not totally down, but trying much too hard to feel positive when the feeling isn’t there. When she sings, “I had to kiss a lot of frogs,” the chorus that follows is supposed to be a happy ending, but instead leaves the listener with the feeling that there’s no end to the frogs in life.

http://www.melissaetheridge.com

2004-05-01

Notes

Internet search giant Google has put itself in the awkward position of conducting an initial public offering of its stock at the same time as the first notable scandal in the company's history. Google faces criticism and legal challenges of its recently announced e-mail service, which reads and remembers the words used in messages that subscribers send. European officials say this may be a violation of privacy laws, and Google has been forced to deny rumors that it was giving the FBI routine access to e-mail text.

Is this the year when the Linux desktop computer takes off? It appears it is. Industry experts say the main thing holding Linux back is the limited availability of applications in categories such as photo editing, tax preparation, and games — and these are not major concerns for the average person buying a new computer. Linux advocates predict the free operating system could occupy 5 percent of the desktop market before the end of the year.

They're probably not copying Zong of the Week, but the iTunes Music Store has adopted the same model of a free song every week. The first free song? “Take Me Away,” a single from Avril Lavigne’s eagerly anticipated new album.

2004-05-01

Rick Springfield, Shock/Denial/Anger/Acceptance

At its best, Rick Springfield music is a surge of noisy guitar-driven anger and discontent. The 1981 breakthrough hit “Jessie’s Girl” found Rick electing to “play along with the charade” while pining for a woman he couldn’t name who didn’t notice him because she was in love with, obviously, a man named Jessie. Did I mention that Rick was a soap opera star around the same time? (For those who are too young to remember Rick Springfield's 10-year run of top 40 hits, imagine an edgy, sarcastic Tal Bachman.) But that’s child's play compared to the melodrama of the new album. The psychological title Shock/Denial/Anger/Acceptance promises music drawn from the depths of emotional turmoil, and the 15-plus songs more than live up to that promise.

You can tell Rick has taken a refresher course in teenage romantic anger. His angry songs sound more fresh and authentic than ever. The song title “God Gave You to Everyone,” if you think about that phrase for a minute, sums it up nicely. A woman scorned has no fury like a slighted Rick Springfield. To cite just one more example: “If she could lose the Polaroids from that weekend, if she'd quit trying to make every boy her boyfriend, man, I bet she could be president.” These are guitar-driven songs — guitar, that is, with an unapologetic crunch that adds weight and urgency to every passionately sung complaint and lament.

Of course, this album's formula is far more than just anger. It’s not a concept album, but nevertheless a rapid-fire inside look at a nightmare that won’t go away. “Welcome to my execution in the name of love” is just one line in the opening minute. The songs are short — under four minutes each — and they're often linked by troubling TV-like segments, so you can’t even catch a breath between songs. The effect is so complete that you'll find yourself reaching, along with Rick, for the hints of normal life that sneak into the songs for a few moments. The album includes one remake, “I'll Make You Happy.” I'm told this was something of a cheerful, confident hit song for the Easybeats many years ago, but without changing the words, Rick quickly reduces its message to a desperate, anguished question of survival. The progression of songs leads to a hair-raising finale, “Every Night I Wake Up Screaming,” in which fears of terrorists and meteors make reality worse than the nightmare.

But as complete and compelling as this story line is, there is another side to it. Listen between the lines sung by Rick-the-tortured-soul, and you will hear another presence, Rick-the-observer, who not only knows that this is just the drama of life, but who can put it all in perspective and ultimately can’t keep from smiling about it. “Acceptance” is, after all, the last word in the album title. And, at the risk of giving away the ending, the album thankfully concludes with a short, sweet postlude that will bring you home again.

The rock album that will take you to another world and bring you back in less than an hour is a rare thing indeed. Shock/Denial/Anger/Acceptance is such an album, and if you listen to just one new album this year, I would suggest this one. Listen to it on headphones in the dark if you dare.

Rick Springfield: http://www.rickspringfield.com

2004-04-01

Notes

Heart recently completed work on a new album, and guitarist Nancy Wilson is excited about it. She wrote in an e-mail message to the Heart web site: “Just heard the final master of Jupiters Darling and it SO RAWKS. It’s hard to type while jumping up and down.” This is Heart’s first studio album without guitarist Howard Leese. A summer arena tour is planned.

Also touring this summer: Madonna, whose tour is selling out quickly even though it has more shows and higher ticket prices than her last tour.

If you missed Shakira’s seemingly endless Tour of the Mongoose, you can now see much of it on her new DVD video.

Perhaps borrowing a page from Howard Jones, The Who have decided to release a series of concerts on CD. The Who 2004 Encore Series is described as “a collection of authorised 2-CD sets consisting of complete, unedited, live recordings from The Who’s upcoming shows in London.”

Rick Aster wrote the first draft of a science fiction novel in February. According to Rick, the story was taken from a dream he had, and since it’s his first novel, we shouldn’t expect publication until next year at least. Rick's previous books have been professional reference books for SAS programmers, and he is currently updating one of those, Professional SAS Programmer’s Pocket Reference, for an August release.

His multiplatinum debut album wasn’t enough to win him a sophomore release on his major label, so Tal Bachman is now climbing the Canadian charts with a single he released himself.

2004-04-01

Zong of the Week: Making Music Fun Again

A century ago, music was just fun. You could gather around the piano, and you would hear whatever song the piano player decided to play. There was a good chance it would be a new song you hadn’t heard before, from a songsheet that had just arrived in the stores.

These days, some of the sense of fun in music is dampened by the complexities and disputes surrounding the way music is distributed. Now, a new web site, Zong of the Week, is trying to change that.

Assuming you have a current computer and an Internet connection, Zong of the Week couldn’t be simpler. At the web site, you can download the current week's song and read a little about it. Then you can listen to it, as many times as you like. That’s all there is to it. There’s nothing to buy, and the RIAA won’t be suing your ISP to find out who you are.

Zong of the Week debuted on February 29. Its first song, “Clan 9 from Outer Space," is a witty highland reel that convincingly links Scottish culture to space aliens.

Zong of the Week: http://www.zongoftheweek.com

2004-03-01

Peter Frampton, Now

If you like a no-frills approach to hard rock, Peter Frampton's best studio albums are the ones he didn’t record in the studio. To record Frampton, he set up recording gear in an English castle. For Breaking All the Rules, the locale was apparently a warehouse. And Frampton recorded the new album Now, his best ever, “at home somewhere in Cincinnati.” The photos show Frampton seated in a bare Victorian-era room, so perhaps it was a room like that where he recorded.

With a minimal supporting cast, these albums focus on the beat, the songs, and Frampton's inimitable guitar playing and singing. On the opening track, “Verge of a Thing," that’s all it takes to convey the excitement of grasping a life-changing idea. Bob Mayo, who contributed perhaps as much as Frampton himself to the winning sound of the landmark Frampton Comes Alive album, provides rhythmically powerful guitar and keyboard tracks throughout the new album. The strong beat the band generates is put to best use on “Hour of Need,” where the growling rhythm guitar tracks reinforce the song's heartfelt opposition to the impulses of a drug habit.

The other song that must be mentioned is “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” This stunning remake, a tribute to the recently departed George Harrison, is surprisingly true to the original done by the Beatles and Eric Clapton, but it comes across with a different mood. Mayo's pounding piano track kick-starts the song with an all the drive and urgency that the lyrics imply. But the real focus, of course, is on Frampton's lead guitar playing, and it lends the song a powerful feeling of hope that is only hinted at in the original.

Now is the most meaningful set of songs Frampton has ever offerered, and the performance by Frampton and his band is one of startling clarity, with everything you would want in a rock album: gritty and polished, personal and sweeping at the same time.

Peter Frampton: http://www.peterframpton.com

(We are sorry to report the sudden death of Bob Mayo. See the note below.)

2004-03-01

Oasis, Heathen Chemistry

What happened? The thunder and jangle that is Oasis music has been silenced. Heathen Chemistry does sound like 1970, but nothing like the band's past extrapolations of John Lennon's late-Beatles sound. Instead, you might describe some of these songs as tepid imitations of Creedence Clearwater Revival, the early Bee Gees, and Jimi Hendrix. Only the most loyal Oasis fans will recognize the band on Heathen Chemistry — and they surely will not approve.

2004-03-01

Notes

Death: Bob Mayo, keyboardist and guitarist. He worked with Hall & Oates, Foreigner, and many other well-known music acts, but is perhaps best known for his work with Peter Frampton, most recently on the album Now (see review above). He died suddenly of a heart attack on February 23 while on a tour of Europe with Frampton. The remainder of the tour has been canceled.

Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King has passed the billion-dollar mark, making it the second biggest movie of all time. It is also among the most successful at the Academy Awards, collecting awards in all 11 categories in which it was nominated.

Pianist Vanessa Carlton is at least half done with her second album, which she hints will be more Gothic than her first. That album, Be Not Nobody, sold over a million copies.

The “other” Alan White is no longer a member of Oasis. The band fired their drummer without explanation in a public statement released last month.

Progressive rockers Asia say they have completed the drum tracks for their next album. The drum tracks are typically the most demanding tracks on an Asia album, so the album might be nearly finished.

2004-03-01

Mozilla 1.6: The Standard Browser Steps Forward

It is not an exaggeration to call Mozilla the standard browser. Among the four most popular browsers, Mozilla is the one that comes closest to following the Internet standards that are supposed to make everything work together correctly. And that’s not even the most compelling reason to consider Mozilla the standard. The other three top browsers, those made by Microsoft, Apple, and Netscape, are all imitations of Mozilla. They try to duplicate Mozilla’s view of a web page, and they identify themselves as compatible with Mozilla. But in its first year of official release, Mozilla has gained only a few million users, perhaps 2 percent of all web browsers.

To get a bigger share, Mozilla will need to be noticeably better than the browsers people are already using. Mozilla is already more stable than Internet Explorer, easier to use than Netscape, faster than either of these, and more standard than any other browser, and a few more improvements in these areas could make Mozilla’s advantages obvious enough that users will go to the trouble of downloading it and installing it. The new Mozilla release, version 1.6, is another step in this direction, and it makes Mozilla a compelling choice for web developers.

The first thing you notice in Mozilla 1.6, if you're comparing it to earlier versions, is that it seems streamlined. It is smaller, quicker, and more accurate in its display of web pages — a notable accomplishment, considering that the previous major release, 1.3, was already among the best in each of these areas. Many of the more confusing user interface components have been hidden (or are easy to hide with menu options), eliminating the clutter that made easlier versions of Mozilla harder to use. The stability of Mozilla 1.6 may be the best of any browser ever. In two weeks of testing, we didn’t find anything that would crash the program.

For web developers, Mozilla’s integrated web page editing is a new addition that makes Mozilla a must-have. There are no completely acceptable HTML editor programs in existence, but the Composer window in Mozilla comes surprisingly close for an early effort. It does have a glaring omission, one that falls in the "What were they thinking?" category: the page-editing view does not create new paragraphs correctly and reliably. Instead, pressing the return key may just generate spurious <br> tags. In another error I encountered, Composer converted non-ASCII character literals to incorrect Unicode characters, which made the page invalid and could display those characters as gibberish in most browsers. But the tremendous advantage of an HTML editor integrated into Mozilla is that you can see the standard Mozilla rendering of the page as you go along, so there aren’t any later surprises in the appearance of the page. The bottom line: Composer generated HTML code that was nearly compliant with the HTML 4.0 standard and was plausibly formatted, code that, as an HTML coder, I would have no trouble cleaning up and using. With  improvements, Composer might become the first usable, standards-compliant HTML editor, and it is already a useful tool for a serious web developer.

The rapid progress Mozilla is making is surprising when you learn that this is happening while they are in the middle of replacing most of their core routines with newer, faster technology. That process should be complete this year with another two major releases, and by then, Mozilla could be the browser to beat. For now, if you've been wishing for a better browser, Mozilla 1.6 is probably the one you want. It is a free download from the Mozilla web site.

The Mozilla Organization: http://www.mozilla.org

2004-02-01

The “Howl-In”: Wolf Sounds and Postcards

Alarmed by Alaska’s initiative to eliminate wolves from large parts of the state’s wilderness areas, Friends of Animals is promoting a tourism boycott of Alaska and is using an unusual kind of event, a "howl-in," to promote awareness of the problem and the boycott. A howl-in combines the recorded sounds of wolves with postcards that citizens can sign and mail to the governor of Alaska to indicate their support for the boycott.

Efforts to eradicate native wildlife species are strongly discouraged by international treaties and have been virtually unheard of in the United States in the last 25 years since the federal government adopted policies to protect wilderness areas. The new wolf-killing initiative, which essentially involves trophy hunters shooting automatic weapons from helicopter gun ships, has little popular support in Alaska, where voters have twice voted in ballot questions to prohibit hunters shooting from aircraft. This policy, combined with a proposed oil giveaway program that would give oil companies much of the oil from Alaska’s oil fields to oil companies free of charge and a related proposal to spend the money saved in the state’s Permanent Fund, have prompted an initiative to recall Alaska’s governor.

Over 50 howl-ins have been held in the past two months. The events range from demonstrations at public buildings to a vegan Super Bowl party scheduled for February 1. Is the boycott working? Apparently it is having an effect. A spot check of a list of upcoming conventions in Anchorage, Alaska’s only large city, suggests that few, if any, of the listed events will actually be held. It’s not known which of the cancellations might be specifically related to the boycott, however.

Friends of Animals: http://www.friendsofanimals.org

2004-02-01

The Super Bowl of Commercials

This year’s Super Bowl, uncharacteristically held on February 1, doesn’t promise to be a competitive football game, but has provoked more than its share of controversy from television broadcaster CBS's handling of commercials broadcast during the game. In the biggest dispute, CBS refused to air a commercial from MoveOn because of the message’s political content. MoveOn has responded by asking viewers to switch away from the game to watch its commercials on CNN at two specific times during the game’s third quarter. If many viewers do so, it will reduce the game’s television rating and could slightly hurt CBS's future advertising revenue. But the lopsided score that most football observers expect could hurt CBS even more. It’s almost a tradition in the Super Bowl that the game is effectively decided in the second quarter and football fans begin to tune out. The February 1 date will also cut into the game’s audience to a slight extent, as people traditionally expect to see the Super Bowl in January.

The Super Bowl: http://www.superbowl.com; MoveOn: http://www.moveon.org; CBS Sports: http://www.cbs.sportsline.com

2004-02-01

Notes

Most of George Harrison's catalog will be reissued this month. New editions of George’s Dark Horse releases, which include most of his solo albums, are scheduled to be issued all at once on February 24. Before his death, George had begun a project of remastering his catalog, and he released a remastered and expanded edition of his solo debut, All Things Must Pass, in 2001. There are reportedly plans to reissue The Concert for Bangladesh, and fans are hoping George’s other Apple releases will follow within the next few years.

The upcoming soundtrack album from the hit TV makeover series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy includes hits by Liz Phair, Sting, Kylie Minogue, and a reunited Duran Duran. Also included is a duet constructed from Billy Squier's song "Everybody Wants You," which with the Fischerspooner hit “Emerge” added becomes "Everybody Wants You to Emerge."

Cheap Trick will be touring with Aerosmith this year. Aerosmith's tour with Kiss last year was surprisingly successful, and Aerosmith hopes to repeat that success with this year’s tour. This time out, Aerosmith will have a new album, the bluesy Honkin’ On Bobo, to promote. Cheap Trick will be promoting its recent release Special One. The tour figures to be Cheap Trick's biggest tour in ages.

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King has exceeded the high box-office mark set by the two earlier movies in the trilogy and will end up among the all-time top 10 movies.

2004-02-01

Jon Anderson, Keswick Theatre, January 10

Jon Anderson is going out on a limb with his current Work in Progress Tour of the Universe. It’s not just his first solo tour in a decade, it’s perhaps the first time he’s ever played in public without a band. Could Jon, with only a MIDI guitar, a piano, a harp, and a smattering of electronic tricks, make a convincing rock show? The answer from the capacity crowd at the Keswick Theatre, on the second night of the tour, was a resounding yes!

As the lead singer of the rock band Yes, Jon Anderson rarely plays much more than a tambourine, so it might have surprised some to see him play Yes songs along with other songs from his career on guitar. But Jon's playing seemed fluid and mostly effortless and provided ample support for his remarkably precise singing on many of the songs. For other songs, MIDI effects derived from the guitar playing and sychronized MIDI sequences added some depth to the musical background. The first of two hour-plus sets contained two surprises: a new reggae song and a revised version of the Yes song "Somehow, Someday" with anti-war lyrics, a thinly veiled reference to the current state of war.

A decidedly more nocturnal second set included a harp solo and the surprising sight of Jon singing while playing the piano. The show ended with an encore dance remix of Yes's biggest hit, "Owner of a Lonely Heart," which found an unrehearsed and embarrassed singer ad-libbing his way through verses and lines he couldn’t quite remember. "Thank God we made it to the chorus," he sang as the second chorus finally arrived three lines after he had started to sing it, but apologies were unnecessary for a crowd that, after such an electrifying show, was more than willing to dance to a chopped-up dance remix of the singer’s biggest pop hit.

Jon Anderson's solo tour continues this month. A Yes tour, the band's first arena tour of North America since the Talk tour, will follow in spring, with 18 shows announced and probably a few more to be added.

Jon Anderson: http://www.jonanderson.com

2004-02-01

David Byrne Warps PowerPoint

Art rocker David Byrne has raised eyebrows with his latest release, which is nothing at all like a Talking Heads record. Instead, it is a coffee table book and video of PowerPoint slides. Byrne explains that he started out trying to parody PowerPoint presentations, but eventually came to see the software, usually understood as synonymous with boring business meeting, as an art form: “I realized that PowerPoint was a limited but a valid medium.”

The book Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information shows presentation software warped far outside its intended visual style, with arrows twisted out of control, charts that can only be described as surreal, and unlikely photographs of ordinary, familiar objects. The included DVD video adds music and animation while still reproducing in deadpan fashion the plodding pace of a corporate presentation.

The release has ignited the ongoing debate about what impact PowerPoint has on the way people communicate. By eliminating story and emphasizing the superficial, does the PowerPoint style make people stupid, as some suggest, or does it simply put people to sleep?

2004-01-01

Notes

ABC television's Monday Night Football put on its own version of American Idol this season. In their halftime “Monday Night at the Mic” feature, pro football players played music with famous musicians. The winner was San Diego Chargers quarterback Doug Flutie, who played drums with Barenaked Ladies. They defeated Bryan Scott and Michelle Branch in the final vote held during the December 15 game broadcast. Doug showed an impressive level of skill on the drum set and added a jangly edge to Barenaked Ladies’ music.

Judas Priest is planning a world tour with lead singer Rob Halford in 2004. The reunited 1980s lineup of the band also say they have “several exciting projects” in mind in addition to the tour.

Amiga, Inc. is poised to release a new version of their flagship operating system. Amigo OS 4.0 will be fully PowerPC-native with symmetric multiprocessing, more flexible memory management, and an optimized file system — all features that should improve the performance of applications and make software development easier.

You can hear an excerpt of a new Asia song on the Asia web site. The song, “Ghost in the Mirror,” was cowritten by Billy Sherwood. Asia have finished writing for their upcoming album and are well into the recording process.

Alan Parsons is recording a new album with a new sound that has been described as electronica. For the first time he is working without core band members Ian Bairnson and Stuart Elliott.

2004-01-01

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