Single Review: Sister Hazel “Happy”

Happy
Album:…somewhere more familiar
Year: 1997

Ken Block has a pleasant attitude but his family expects more from him in the puzzling “Happy.”

Rigid guitars open the single. He likes to people watch. He looks to see if they are actually enjoying life or plodding through it. Someone in his life asks a vague question: if Block would rather have his attitude a certain way. But without any specifics, the question does not have its intended effect. Block protests it. However, his friend is joking and laughing, which is how Block would prefer to live his life. (“I remember watchin’/All the once upon a times/Remember thinkin’/Who’s content and who’s for rent/And you said don’t you want to be like that man!?/
Oh No–No–No!/But then he cracks that smile/And that don’t look so bad to me.”)

In the chorus, he says he’s a peppy person. But there’s people in his life who expect him not to have a bad day at all. (“Happy–I’m Happy/But that ain’t good enough for you/Happy–I’m Happy.”)

People have preconceived notions of how he should act and be. However, he wants to be himself and not what people imagine him to be. The last section of the verse becomes the pre-chorus. But it doesn’t fit into the context of it. Instead, it feels tacked on. (“I remember thinkin’/
How they thought that we should be/Remember feelin’/That might be you but that ain’t me/
And you said don’t you want to be like that man!?/Oh No–No–No!/But then he cracks a smile/And that don’t look so bad to me.”)

The chorus is sung twice.

In the bridge, he lists the things which make him enjoy life. However, he comes across a beauty pageant contestant wishing for world peace. Each one is either calculated, stupid or both.

Let’s the play the Dusk411 “This Bridge Is Weaker Than Michael Jackson’s Face” game. Question 1: He likes the suns that rise in the morning. Answer 1: Stupid. Since when are there two suns which rise in the morning? Question 2: hearing the sigh from a young girl. Answer 1: Stupid. Admitting to eavesdropping an underage girl’s sigh is inappoririate and incredibly creepy. Question 3: the sound of a baby’s cry. Answer: Calculated. He’s trying to be the super sensitive rocker guy. Awww….how insincere. Question 4: He likes seeing the history through an old man’s eyes. Answer: Both. He doesn’t go into detail, which makes it odd behavior. I added the history since it seemed to be what he was aiming for. It’s calculated to convey how much he cares about the senior citizens’ of the world. (“the suns that rise/a young girl’s sighs/a baby cries/an old man eyes/the suns that rise/a young girl’s sighs/a baby cries/an old man eyes.”)

The first verse is sung again. The chorus is repeated twice.

The phony, hypocratical “Happy” says it’s the ideal people must attain. However, when people impose certain ideals on Block he rejects them. The us vs. them mentality regarding exactly what it means to be happy chips away the song’s message. The nonsensical lyrics lack detail and context.

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Single Review: Hole “Malibu”

Malibu
Album: Celebrity Skin
Year: 1998

Courtney Love watches an actor friend waste away in the jaded “Malibu.”

Brooding, sun-kissed guitars accompany Love. She sees some of her actor friends taking drugs and acting recklessly. She’s boggled at a close friend who is clinging to his life. She’s curious as to how he made it this far without killing himself. She asks how she can help him pull through his depression and be the person she knew before. (“Crash and burn/all the stars explode tonight/How’d you get so desperate/how’d you stay alive/Help me please/burn the sorrow from your eyes/Oh, come on be alive again/don’t lay down and die.”)

She advises him to get out of the city and leave behind the Hollywood lifestyle for a while. (“Hey, hey, you know what to do/Oh baby, drive away from Malibu.”)

She resigned, knowing she can’t get through to him. She can only tell him not to do any more drugs than he has. His drug use has become to affect his health (skinner than he should be, etc.) and career (not being hired, arrests.) She promises to not abandon him. She encourages him to seek out God and listen to his problems. She’s going to do whatever it takes. (“Get well soon/please don’t go any higher/How are you so burnt when you’re barely on fire/Cry to the angels/I’m gonna rescue you/I’m gonna set you free tonight, baby/pour over me.”)

In the chorus, she says she and his other close friends are going to keep an eye on him. Since he has chosen to stay in Malibu, she tells him to weep and allow religion into his life. (“Hey, hey, we’re all watching you/Oh, baby, fly away to Malibu/Cry to the angels, and let them swallow you/Go and part the sea, yeah, in Malibu.”)

In the bridge, she sees him sink into the darkness and hit rock bottom. She can’t watch it anymore and wades in the ocean. She knows the cause of his self-destruction. She hints it was a broken relationship but not much more. (“And the sun goes down, I watch you slip away/
And the sun goes down, I walk into the waves/And I knew love would tear you apart/Oh and I knew the darkest secret of your heart.”) It was an excellent choice not to divulge what happened with him. It’s a private matter. It keeps with the intimacy and longtime friendship.

She’s says she’s will stay with him until he’s clean. He will cleanse himself and be like he was. She adds that he has so much potential. (“I’m gonna follow you/Oh baby, fly away, yeah, to Malibu/Oceans of angels, oceans of stars/Down by the sea is where you drown your scars/I can’t be near you, the light just radiates/I can’t be near you, the light just radiates.”)

In the Max Martin Total Domination era (1997-2000), rock acts were scrambling to update their sound from grunge to sweet pop. Hole made the transition effectively by not acting like teenagers and thinking of their old fans. The grim “Malibu” focuses on a friendship Love fights to keep, despite the efforts of her friend to push her away. The oceanic, breezy tone highlights the contradictory world of Hollywood. A place where stars hide their flaws and maintain an inoffensive image to appeal the regular Joe in America. Meanwhile, they are taking every drug, woman, man, and drink in sight.

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Single Review: Radiohead “Paranoid Android”

Paranoid Android
Album: Ok Computer
Year: 1997

Thom Yorke resists becoming the bored, greedy surburbanite in the stinging “Paranoid Android.”

A contemplative guitar opens the single.Yorke asks his neighbor to stop mowing the lawn. His mind has been buzzing with fearful thoughts. He thinks he hears something and inquires as to what it is. A low voice says in the background that while he may be unsettled, he has not lost himself to capitalism. (“Please could you stop the noise, I’m trying to get some rest/From all the unborn chicken voices in my head/What’s that…? (I may be paranoid, but not an android)
What’s that…? (I may be paranoid, but not an android.”)

He can’t stand people who have left themselves become bean counters. It’s those “androids” he will have destroyed if he ran the country. Their opinions are like everybody else’s which in the end, don’t matter. (“When I am king, you will be first against the wall/With your opinion which is of no consequence at all/What’s that…? (I may be paranoid, but no android/What’s that…? (I may be paranoid, but no android.”)

The guitar strums with some quiet rage for nearly a minute or so. He sees an old friend who is now rich and stepped on many toes to have money. He dresses in Gucci and overindulges in expensive possessions. The person pretends to not know him, causing Yorke to go into a rage. The guitars seethe in response. (“Ambition makes you look pretty ugly/Kicking and squealing gucci little piggy/You don’t remember/You don’t remember/Why don’t you remember my name?/Off with his head, man/Off with his head, man/Why don’t you remember my name?/I guess he does.”)

A storming guitar solo follows. It then segues into a unsteady calm as Yorke cries “ahhh.”
He collapses, pleading for his sanity. (“Rain down, rain down/Come on rain down on me/
From a great height/From a great height… height/Rain down, rain down/Come on rain down on me/From a great height/From a great height… height/Rain down, rain down/Come on rain down on me…”)

The low voice returns, telling Yorke he must become an android now. He will play football like the other clean-cut neighborhood boys. He will attend lunches with young professionals to get an edge. He will deal with nothing but stress. It’s all for his own good. (“That’s it, sir
You’re leaving/The crackle of pigskin/The dust and the screaming/The yuppies networking/
The panic, the vomit/The panic, the vomit/God loves his children, God loves his children, yeah!”)

The guitars come back but are frantic and scattered, as though they are figuring out what to do.

The multi-faceted “Paranoid Android” has aspects of 1984 in it, particulary as he is taken away at the end. It’s as though for years he hid as a regular person, faking to be an “android” to get through life. The fear truly does set in until the end, though. However, Yorke has been on edge since the beginning of the single. Accomplished and intelligent “Paranoid Android” effectively addresses the issue people being complacent about their role as drones in the workplace and in society.

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Single Review: Allure & Nas “Head Over Heels”

Head Over Heels
Album: Allure
Year: 1997

Allure has fallen hard for her crush but doesn’t know if he feels the same way in the sprightly “Head Over Heels.”

Pulsating keyboards and drums open the single. Nas immediately promotes the (defunct)super rap group, The Firm and the producers of the song (The Trackmasters), his nickname (Escobar) and the group (Allure.) Nas then enters a club, wine bottles in hand. He works in the band’s name and turns into slang for being intoxicated. The club is full of people. He’s a regular and recongnizes some people. He eyes an girl and tries to figure out her ethnicity. He asks his friend for some marijuana so he can get high. He offers a girl a ride home in his fancy car. He hides his expensive tech gadgets. He then says he’ll call the girl. (“The Firm, Trackmasters, Escobar, Allure…Hey yo the bridge keep rocking./We’re coming through bottles popping/Allure when your album’s dropping/The place is packed/Many faces, there’s some I know and some know me/From buying cases, cash stacked, shorties peeping/Is she Puerto Rican or half-Black/Puff puff give I need to live./Please pass that so I could zone…It’s a crazy world let me drive you home. Let’s go/By the way the name is Esco/The platinum range makes your man know we wet those/If he front I got the tech close/To you much respect goes for going through/
Had to put it on you Allure you/You gotta leave I’ll call you/It’s been real.”)

The heavy bass from the intro and twinkling piano accompany Allure during the verses. When she’s around the guy, she is overcome with love. She can’t put it into words and she’s above the clouds. She wants to him to say he feels the same way and not to ignore his emotions. She wants to hear him say “would you be my girlfriend?” and pull her close to him. (“Boy I can’t understand it/See I’ve never really felt/Like I do when I’m around you baby/And I just can’t explain it/But I’m feeling so high/And I just can’t deny it’s on you/Tell me you want my love/
Baby please don’t deny/What you’re feeling inside/Say you’ve been thinking of/holding me, touching me/Feeling my every need.”)

In the chorus, she says it feels like love to her, although she’s not sure. All she knows is she wants him. (“Head over heels/It seems so real/I feel like I’m falling in love/I’m lost inside/
Of desire/Oh baby can’t you see?/I’m falling for you head over heels.”)

She wants some private time with him. Her hormones are jumping and she yearns to make out with him. (“Baby baby I’m longing/Just to have you to myself/I don’t want nobody else/Baby my body’s calling/Won’t you come get my love/Because I really need you so much/Tell me you want my love/What you’re feeling inside/So much in common/Holding me/Touching me/
Fulfilling my every need.”)

Nas has another rap. It turns out he’s the crush. Nas know it’s his swagger that attracted her to him. She’s been into guys like him all her life. She used to be wild and would do anything to capture from anyone in the neighborhood. However, she has since gone on to make something of herself. She now has a luxury car. She’s living with him now. Nas is going to announce to his fans that he’s taken during his concerts. (“I know you like the way that I act/You been around real cats all your life/Since the way back/You still got it/’Cuz you was turned out once/Guess you learned ain’t no future/With them burnt out stunts/Left the hood to get your own things/With home team pushing through/Watch your chrome gleam/Yeah you probably heard that my pipe game’s tight/Rocking VSS stones, powder blue whips…And crack the moon roof only for you to breathe/You get an extra set of keys/I tell the world/While I’m out on tour/Keep your hands off my girls Allure.”)

The chorus ends the single. Allure was Mariah Carey’s first band signed to her (defunct) label, Crave. “Head Over Heels” has Carey’s touch, from the overuse of Nas to the even the harmonization of the vocals. It’s a fine, well-sung single. However, Carey’s mistake of having Nas dominant the single hinders it a bit.

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Single Review: En Vogue “Too Gone, Too Long”

Too Gone, Too Long
Album: EV3
Year: 1997

Terry Ellis, Cindy Herron Braggs, and Maxine Jones of En Vogue dismiss an ex-boyfriend in the characterless “Too Gone, Too Long”

Huffy keyboards begin the single as “ohhs” are wailed in the background. Since I’m not sure of the vocals, Jones will be considered lead. Jones scoffs at her ex’s pleas to get back together again. She inquires as to what his motives are and tells him he shouldn’t have broken up with her. She adds the situation is reversed and he’s not welcome in her life anymore. (“Did I hear you say that/You want another chance/You need another try/You’re ready to reclaim your prize/So, you want my love back/Why’d you let it slip away/Why’d you ever let me go/
Your change of heart has come too late/Well, the door is locked/You can’t get in/The game has changed/You’ve been.”)

A lot of time has passed since their breakup and she’s over him now. He’s sudden reappearance isn’t going to change her mind. (“Too gone, too long, baby/To ever get back again/In my heart/Too gone, too long, baby/You’re too many tears too late/To ever come back, to get back in my arms/Been gone/Too gone, too long.”)

She recounts their last conversation in the second verse. She told him was acting hastily. He would eventually find out that the ass isn’t greener on the other side and would return. He wasn’t going to find another woman who would put up with his annoying habits or listen to his every problem. She tells him he’s ancient history in her life and he has to fend for himself now. (“Didn’t you hear me say that/You’d be a fool to leave/You’d regret the road your chose/You’d come running right back to me/You had such a good love, sugar/You’ll never find with no one else/But what I know all the time/You had to find out for yourself/But now you’ll never know/That love again/You’re on your own/You’ve been.”)

In the bridge, she asks him she’s not desperate for him and has a boyfriend. He’s not a part of her life and won’t be ever again. (“Did you really think I’d take you back/Let you back in my life/Oh, baby/Just like that/Someone new is loving me/Loving you is what used to be/Baby, you’re too late/To win my heart again.”)

The chorus is sung twice. However, En Vogue snap and bob at the end, telling him it isn’t going to happen and he’s not worth the time. He’s instructed to “hit road the jack” and forget her address. (“No, never/No, never/Just too long/I don’t need you/I don’t want you/Later for you baby/Oh, oh/Hit the road, Jack/And don’t you come back/Oh, yeah, yeah/Oh, oh, yeah.”)

While En Vogue’s vocals are superb, the single suffers from songwriter’s Diane Warren deriaritve style. Warren would later the sell “Too Gone, Too Long” as Whitney Houston’s “I Learned From the Best” with similar lyrics. The only change in Houston’s is it’s slower tempo.

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Single Review: Madonna “You’ll See”

You’ll See
Album: Something To Remember
Year: 1995

Madonna aims to prove her controlling, emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend wrong in the self-willed “You’ll See.”

A resilient drum and mocking guitar open the single, setting a stern tone. Madonna declares she will be able to continue living her life without him. Her ex told her she is a nobody. She vows that he will eat his words one day. (“You think that I can’t live without your love/You’ll see/You think I can’t go on another day/You think I have nothing/Without you by my side/You’ll see/Somehow, some way.”)

The drums and guitars speed up slightly for the second verse. Madonna will take pleasure in jokes and love again. Her ex thinks he has broken her down and damaged her beyond repair. But she’s only gathering her strength. (“You think that I can never laugh again/You’ll see/
You think that you destroyed my faith in love/You think after all you’ve done/I’ll never find my way back home/You’ll see/Somehow, someday.”)

In the chorus, she says she will rebuild her identity and self-esteem from scratch herself. She’ll pull through and make it without anyone’s help. It’s important to her that she is independent. (“All by myself/I don’t need anyone at all/I know I’ll survive/I know I’ll stay alive/All on my own/
I don’t need anyone this time/It will be mine/No one can take it from me/You’ll see.”)

Madonna sees him as a scared, fragile man who has to shatter a woman to feel good about himself. She tells him it’s natural to weep and not to be correct all the time. She’s honest and has credibility. People will be able to see through his manipulations and lies to smear her. (“You think that you are strong, but you are weak/You’ll see/It takes more strength to cry, admit defeat/I have truth on my side/You only have deceit/You’ll see, somehow, someday.”)

After chorus is sung once, Madonna says that he will find out how strong and confident she really is. (“You’ll see…you’ll see.”)

Madonna’s revenge is subtle in the empowering “You’ll See.” By becoming a woman he no longer will be able to dominate her, she will have defied his low expectations of her. Madonna does not want to be a victim. She prefers to walk away on her own terms and not have anyone hold her hand. Once she becomes the self she knew before him, then she will be truly free of him.

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Single Review: R.E.M. “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?”

What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?
Album: Monster
Year: 1994

According to the Dan Rather blog Ratherbiased.com, Rather was attacked in 1986 by William Tager. Tager punched him, demanding to know “Kenneth, what’s the frequency?” He believed the media was watching him and sending him violent messages. Tager would later kill an NBC stagehand in 1994.

Lead singer Michael Stipe said of the attack: “It remains the premier unsolved American surrealist act of the 20th century. It’s a misunderstanding that was scarily random, media hyped and just plain bizarre,” as reported by Yahoo.

Stipe turns Tager’s question into a metaphor about the sensationalistic, fickle U.S. media.

A vigilant, pushy guitar opens the single, setting an immediate conflicting tone. Stipe first addresses someone who watches the news and believes every word of the story. For the person, the news is like a drug and the news reporters are speaking directly to him. (Note: news anchors are told to engage in talk to make the viewers comfortable and feel like they are there with them.) Stipe, however, does not turn on the news and hear the latest stories. He views the person as gullible and seeing issues as black and white, not gray. The outlandish, overhyped stories about one topic do not interest him. However, his acquaintance does not question the media and will argue about it’s always right. Stipe and his friends expects this type of behavior and realize the acquaintance is not going to change. (“”What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” is your Benzedrine, uh-huh/I was brain-dead, locked out, numb, not up to speed/I thought I’d pegged you an idiot’s dream/Tunnel vision from the outsider’s screen/I never understood the frequency, uh-huh/You wore our expectations like an armored suit, uh-huh.”) At the “I pegged you for an idiot’s dream,” the tense guitars vibrate.

Stipe has analyzed entertainment and sees the news as another form of it. He’s fed up with the media and ignores it. However, he still questions it and remains informed about the world. He defends his position by quoting Richard Linklater, director of Dazed and Confused and Slackers (thanks Google!) He notices his acquaintance, Kenneth has the phony smile and thinks everyone should have their comeuppance. Kenneth has told Stipe that irony has caused young people to be cynical. Kenneth wears shirts, matching a green screen used for the weather on news stations. It possibly could be his way of receiving the messages (by my speculation.) (“I’d studied your cartoons, radio, music, TV, movies, magazines/Richard said, “Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy”/A smile like the cartoon, tooth for a tooth/You said that irony was the shackles of youth/You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh/I never understood the frequency, uh-huh.”)

The guitar has an authoriative solo.

The second verse begins with famous catchphrase. Stipe then describes Kenneth’s fear of every little thing. He put on a butterfly decal on his car for luck. He also gazes into his rear-view mirror, tracking non-events as they happen. (” “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” is your Benzedrine, uh-huh/Butterfly decal, rear-view mirror, dogging the scene…”) He continues with the second half of the first verse. (“you smile like the cartoon, tooth for a tooth…I never understood the frequency, uh-uh.”)

Kenneth’s explanations and Stipe’s opinions continue until the end. (“You wore our expectations like an armored suit, uh-huh…I never understood, don’t f*** with me, uh-huh.”)

“What’s the Frequency, Kenneth” is even more relevant today. The U.S. media has been covering trainwrecks and assigning celebrity to those who do not deserve it. It then is considered to be the headline on the news. The tabloid Us Weekly (even though I do read it occansionally) has changed the entertainment media, giving lasting fame to Britney Spears and the Olsen twins.

Just some personal trivia, up until tonight I thought certain lyrics were: “you swore an army were shadows of you” and “you were sucking on a cup, uh-uh.” instead “you wore an armored suit.” “you were a shark, sharp violent ray uh-uh” instead of “you wore shirt of a violent green.”) Thank goodness for the Internet otherwise I’d still think this song was about some guy named Kenneth who was a shark.

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