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Archive for the ‘Mad Scientists’ Category

silentSOUNDTRACK: HOSPITAL SHIPS-Tiny Desk Concert #177 (November 23, 2011).

hospital shipsHospital Ships is a band created by Jordan Geiger, who was in the band Shearwater, among others. In 2011 he released his second album as Hospital Ships.  The blurb describes the album as “packed with poppy folk songs and brash rockers enhanced with instrumental flourishes and bursts of guitar feedback,” but for this recording, they strip everything down to the basics: a guitar, banjo, ukulele and a drum with a towel over it to muffle the sound.

Geiger has a rather high-pitched, delicate, almost talking-singing voice and his songs are rather pretty.  The band plays 3 songs in just over ten minutes.  The first one, “Phantom Limb,” (once my lover, now my friend, you are my phantom limb) has a recurring motif of them saying/singing “ha ha” which is rather catchy.

“Carry On,” features a four-letter word (technically a seven letter word), which might be one of the first times on a Tiny Desk Concert that such a word is uttered.  It’s especially funny given how sweet the band sounds.  The sentiment of the song is nice though: “To all the women I’ve loved, When I was with you I would say I was better off….  And when I’m gone, carry on, carry on.”  There were harmonies in the first song, but they are more prominent in this one (three part) and are quite nice.  The banjo player also does a whistling solo.

“Let Me In” made me laugh because he uses the word baby a lot (which Ben Folds said in his Tiny Desk that he has never said in real life, so why would he put in it a song?).  But this song is very gentle and sweet–just Geiger on his guitar singing “baby, let me in.”

Geiger’s voice reminds me of a few different people–Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie especially on the final track; perhaps the Mountain Goats or the Weakerthans.  And his songwriting is very good.

[READ: December 26, 2015] Silent But Deadly

I really enjoyed the first Liō collection, and was pretty excited that I could find the second collection so quickly (my library doesn’t have any more collections for some reason, so I’ll have to track the rest down elsewhere).  This book collects the strips from February 25, 2007 – December 2, 2007.

Not much has changed from that book to this one, but I think Tatulli’s comic chops have gotten even better.

The strip won me over immediately with the first one in the book. Lio draws a monster and it comes to life.  He looks at the marker and it says “magic marker” and he gets a big grin and goes back to work.  So simple yet so funny.

It is that big grin–wide open-mouthed just unfettered mischievous delight that occurs in nearly every strip. (more…)

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lio1 SOUNDTRACK: JOE HENRY-Tiny Desk Concert #176 (November 21, 2011).

joe henryI had never heard of Joe Henry, so imagine my surprise to find out that he was releasing his 12th album in 2011.  For this Tiny Desk, it’s just him at a stool playing his guitar.  He has a very easy vibe, telling stories between songs and playing them with very little fuss.

He opens the show by saying this is, “not exactly like Woody Guthrie playing for the union members but you are working people.”

He plays four songs, “Sticks and Stones,” After the War,” “Odetta” and “Piano Furnace.”

Between the first two songs, he says he first became aware of Tiny Desk Concerts when his friend Vic Chesnutt was on the show (amusingly, he was the second person on the show).  He says he has a song on his new record about Chesnutt (Chesnutt had recently died).  He doesn’t play it though.  At first it seems like he might not be allowed to play it, but then it seems like maybe he just doesn’t get to it.

Rather he plays “After the War” where his guitar sounds like it has an incredible echo on it.  That echo is also present on the third song.  After which Bob asks him about his guitar.

Joe says he’s had the guitar for 6 years.  But the guitar dates back to 1932.  He says that he heard things differently with this guitar.  It’s got a smaller body and was actually sold as a budget guitar by Gibson (for $19 in 1932).  He also jokes that it’s black and looks a bit like a World Wrestling Federation belt.

Then someone asks him about Sam Phillips.  Joe says he sold her husband a guitar about 20 years ago.  She and her husband have split and Sam got the guitar and has been playing only that guitar for the last 20 years.  He says that he loves that she doesn’t plug in her guitar.  She plays into a microphone where you can hear the whole guitar and which makes the other players lean in to hear her.

I love the chords he plays in the final song, “Piano Furnace,” even if I don’t know what the song is about.  Henry’s voice is familiar.  I think he sounds a bit like a number of different singers.  And overall, nothing really stands out in his performance, except that everything sounds great and hiss songwriting is really solid.  That’s not a bad thing.

[READ: December 20, 2015] Happiness is a Squishy Cephalopod

Mark Tatulli is the author of the Desmond books.  I liked the stories, but I didn’t love the drawing style so much.  Imagine my surprise to find out that Tatulli has been drawing comics featuring this little boy Liō since 2006 (going forward, I’m leaving off that line over the o, because it’s a real pain).

And even more surprising is that I like the drawing style in the comic quite a bit–it is slightly refined over the Desmond books and is all the better for it.

I am also really surprised to find out that this strip appeared in newspapers across the country.  I’ve certainly never heard of it (but then I don’t read newspapers anymore, either).

So Lio is strip about a boy named Lio.  Lio is a dark, dark kid.  He has a pet squid, he loves monsters and he’s delighted by chaos. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: November 16, 2014] The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen

linoWe enjoyed Whales on Stilts so much that we were really excited to listen to this second book in the series.  However, this book, while featuring the same main trio, was actually quite different.

The gang has decided that they are going on vacation.  They’re a little bored (Katie’s mom has been doing things like cutting off her own hand just to freak out Jasper), so they take Jasper’s latest gadget and head up to the mountains for a little r n r (and a free dinner with the coupon that Jasper received).

When they get to the hotel (the Moose Tongue Lodge and Resort), they realize that they can’t afford a room, so Jasper’s gadget attaches to the side of the hotel and looks just like it is supposed to be a part of it (apparently).  Of course, when they leave their invasive bubble, they have to go out through someone else’s bathroom and he is terrified by the calamitous sound that Jasper’s gadget made while attaching to the building).  They also learn that the coupon for a free dinner was fake.

When Jasper reveals to the hotel clerk that he is indeed Jasper Dash, boy technonaut, the clerk reveals that he is but one of many literary super sleuths in residence that night.  The Manley Boys and the Hooper Quints are there, and so is Eddie Wax and the Cutesy Dell Twins.

Who?  (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: October 15, 2014] Whales on Stilts

whalesWhen this book came out it was hugely popular in my library.  I was very curious about the title–it’s crazy, right?  But I had no real sense of what the book was about (I wasn’t even sure if it was meant to be funny or a drama–it was on every reading list of that year but who knew why).  Well, had I ever looked at the book carefully I would have known it was a comedy and I would have realized that it was exactly the kind of comedy that I love.

This book is part one in Anderson’s Pals in Peril series.  I believe the series shares characters, but I’m not sure if it is necessary to read them in order (we’ll find out when we listen to Book 2 next week).  Of course there are more than three characters in this book, but the three main characters are: Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut! and star of his own adventure series; Katie Mulligan, star of her own horror books series Horror Hollow; and Lily Gefelty, a girl who is friends with both of them.

What is wonderful about the book is that the narrator describes Lily as being remarkably unremarkable.  She hides behind her bangs, doesn’t want to be the center of attention and is grateful that her two superfriends have known her for longer than they have been famous.  And what is doubly wonderful is that Lily is the catalyst for solving the major crisis that is about to hit her town.  In fact, Lily is the first one to even suspect that anything is awry. (more…)

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how you dieSOUNDTRACK: DIARRHEA PLANET-“Lite Dream” Live on KEXP (2014).

dpHow to pass up a band with a name like this?  Well, it’s pretty easy, actually.  Who would even want to say their name?

The name conjures images, no, let’s not go there.  The name conjures music that is just abrasive and rude–ten second punks songs.  But in reality, their music is pretty traditional old school heavy metal.  They have 4 lead guitarists after all! (There’s 6 guys in the band altogether, surprisingly, there’s no women).   One of the lead guitarists even plays with his teeth (for a few seconds).

This song is about heavy metal, although I’m not sure what about it.  There’s some big riffs, solos galore.  There’s even a classic 80s style dual lead guitar solo.  There’s big loud drums.  There’s feedback.  It’s everything you think of as heavy metal, with a seeming wink and nod thrown in.

This is basically a goofy feel good band, playing fast heavy metal.  Shame about the band name, though, really.

Watch it all here.

[READ: spring and summer 2014] This is How You Die

It is quite disconcerting to open a Christmas present from your wife and have the first thing you see be the words “This is How You Die.”  To then look at her confusedly and try to interpret the look of excited delight on her face as she wonders why you’re not excited.  Then she explains that it is a sequel to the interesting collection Machine of Death that you both had read several years ago (but which I evidently never posted about).  Sighs of relief and then Christmas can proceed with more merriment.

So over the course of the new year I read these stories and I enjoyed most of them quite a lot.

The premise of the book is that there is a Machine of Death.  This machine states how you will die, but it does not give you a time, place or real definition of what it means by hope you will die.  Statements seem obvious but may in fact be different in some twisted way.  As it says on the back of the book, OLD AGE could mean either dying of natural causes or being shot by an elderly bedridden man in a botched home invasion.  The book revels in the irony that you can know how it’s going to happen , but you’ll still be surprised when it does.

The way the machine works is that you insert your finger, it takes a blood sample and gives you a card with the way you die printed on it.  No matter how many times you do it you will get the same result.  These are the guidelines, and each author made a story with just that set up.

Pretty cool right?  The first collection was really great.  And so is this collection, done by writers and cartoonists that I had never heard of before.  There are 34 stories and 12 comic strips (it’s a hefty collection).  Because each story is basically about how a person dies, I had to think about how best to review the book–without giving away any twists.  So I think the title and a very brief plot will have to suffice.

There’s even a funny promo video for the book (at the end of the post). (more…)

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topsySOUNDTRACK: BECK-Mellow Gold (1994).

mellowAnd then “Loser” happened and because of this preposterous song, over a million people have purchased a very peculiar album.  After listening to Soulmanure and One Foot, you can really see that Mellow Gold is a sort of greatest hits, or perhaps a most-commercial-potential collection from that period.  What’s especially strange about the album is that it includes scenes from the photo shoot for Soulmanure in the booklet.  I have also learned that “Loser” was done as something of a one-off, a goof that Beck threw together on the day of the recording–while the lyrics sure seem like it, the music is pretty spectacular–that slide guitar is instantly memorable.

The album does some very interesting things with stereo recording, which I never really noticed until I was listening with one earphone in–it rather changes the song, and that one channel may have more of the out of tune guitar noises too.

“Pay No Mind” has some crazy lyrics, although they do work, and, frankly, it’s a great acoustic folk song.  The noises and weirdness in the song make it more fun, but the melody is great on its own.  I can’t tell if his voice is slowed down or not, but the harmonica sounds great and raw.  “Fuckin’ with My Head” has a great garage rock sound (with more harmonica, this time distorted beyond all reason).  The verses are noisy but the chorus is so delicate.  “Whiskeyclone, Hotel City 1997” has a guitar which sounds decidedly out if tune.  It is probably the most anti-folk song on a major label album.

“Soul Suckin Jerk” has a cool funky bass line over a crazy noisy beat and weird effects.  It is also super catchy despite the crazy out of tune guitars and excessive feedback.  “Truckdrivin Neighbors Downstairs (Yellow Sweat)” opens with a fight (“c’mon motherfucker”).  Despite the chaos and vulgarity, it’s a very catchy song–the downward melody of “Shit kicking, speed taking, truck driving neighbor downstairs” is hard to resist.  That song is followed by one that opens with, of course, a music box and is called “Sweet Sunshine.”  It is the most distorted and unpleasant song on the album–as far from catchy as you can get and yet it still sounds completely Beck.

“Beercan” is a surprisingly awesome single tucked at the bottom of the album (even if it does have ear-splitting feedback in the middle. “Steal My Body Home” slows things down incredibly, a technique Beck would use a lot over the years–making a song sound very different by spacing it out more.  Especially when the solo comes in and there’s more out of tune guitars and a kazoo.

“Nightmare Hippie Girl” is a funny folk song (the lyrics are great), and again the melody is catchy and boppy.  It’s followed by one of my favorite songs on the album “Mutherfucker” which is a noisy piece of nonsense with the screeched chorus “Everyone’s out to get you motherfucker”.  It would get annoying really fast, but at 2 minutes, it’s an amusing and kind of fun to sing along to.  The album ends with “Blackhole” a slow and somewhat epic (5 minutes) acoustic song.  It feels big and the melodies evoke an epic song.  It’s quite pretty.  Naturally, there’s an obligatory piece of nonsense as a “bonus” track (apparently titled “Analog Odyssey”).  It’s just a minute or so of noise and is not worth mentioning).

Although this album is much more polished than the other to (the production is very clean which really lets all those weird elements stand out) it still shows Beck as a weird, freakish musician–extremely talented with a great ear for melody but someone who is not afraid to be loud and noisy just for the heck of it.  Mellow Gold is still an interesting listen twenty years later.

[READ: March 1, 2014] Topsy Turvy

Topsy Turvy came as a separate book with my copy of Lemony Snicket’s 29 Myths.  It was originally an insert in McSweeney’s 40.  At the time I said this:

This is an inserted graphic novel.  It has very simple illustrations, which I liked, although I didn’t really follow the story at all.

Since it is now its own entity, I’ll give it a bit more.

The book has a drawing per page.  Most pages have one word or  a few words.  Like “Nighttime” and “Some Are Awake” and “Size is Uncertain.”  The story invites us to see the people who are awake making potions to turn things into other things. (more…)

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cpatain 10 SOUNDTRACK: “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC-Bad Hair Day (1996).

bad hair dayBad Hair Day is an uninspired album title, especially given how great of an album it is.  As I posted last week, “Amish Paradise” is great, (I forget to mention the funny Gilligan’s Island verse in the middle.  “Everything You Know is Wrong” is just a magnificent They Might be Giants parody.  Now, TMBG and Weird Al are pretty kindred spirits (they both use accordions and sing silly songs).  In that respect, this song isn’t that different from a typical Al song, but there are so many great musical nods to TMBG that the song is just awesome.  And it’s very funny too.

“Cavity Search” is a parody of U2’s “Hold Me Touch Me Kiss Me Kill Me” and it works very well, both as a great soundalike (Al’s vocal tricks get better with each album) and the way he plays with the original (the drill solo is great) are really clever.  “Calling in Sick” is a kind of Nirvana parody, although I don’t hear it as well as other band parodies.  It’s certainly a grunge song and, as such it works.  But it was “The Alternative Polka” that proved to be my favorite of his medleys so far.  “Loser,” “Sex Type Thing” “All I Wanna Do” “Closer” (hearing him do Nine Inch Nails is hilarious–especially this song!), “Bang Bang Blame” (so much R.E.M. lately), “You Oughta Know,” “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” (Weezer’s song was supposed to be included here but they asked it to be removed and he did at the last minute–see the video below).  “I’ll Stick Around,” “Black Hole Sun” and “Basket Case”–a great mix of songs that I loved at the time and still do, this song is like reliving the mid 90s.

“Since You’ve Been Gone” is a fun a capella band version of a funny break up song.  He gets better and better at this kind of lyric (“a red hot cactus up my nose” is particularly wonderful).  “Gump” is a very funny parody of “Lump” by Presidents of the United States of America.  Evidently they liked his parody so much they used some of his lyrics in the final verse when they played it live.

“Sick of You” has a fun bass line (reminiscent of Elvis Costello) and a great chorus.  And “Syndicated, Inc.” is a very funny parody of that overplayed Soul Asylum song “Misery.”  It’s a very funny song about syndicated TV shows.  “I Remember Larry” is a pretty funny original about a prankster, although it’s the weakest song on the album.  “Phony Calls” is a parody of TLC’s “Waterfalls” and it’s pretty funny (especially hearing Al do TLC vocals).  The parody works pretty well, and it’s certainly helped by the sample of Bart and Moe on the Simpsons.  “The Night Santa Went Crazy” is a pretty funny twisted take on Santa.

This album is definitely one of his best.  Just about every song is a winner.  And it’s his best-selling album too.

[READ: February 22, 2013] Captain Underpants and the Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers

Clark was pretty excited when this book came out.  He had just finished up book #7 or 8 when the book was published.  And so it didn’t take too long for him to get caught up with the series.  I was also pretty lucky to have just finished book nine so this “last” book (although not really) was very well timed.

When we left off in Book Nine, Tippy Tinkletrousers had inadvertently destroyed the earth and the giant zombie George and Harold were stomping through the town.  And, shockingly, they had just crushed Tippy in his robo-pants.   But as this book opens, Pilkey gives us the truth about zombies.  They are really slow.  So slow that Tippy was able to get out of the way of the giant foot (and do lots of other things) and put a giant ketchup packet under the foot so it got squished instead of him.

The rest of the book is simply chock full of time travel, overlapping people and all kinds of paradoxes.  I have to wonder if Clark got it, but he just read it again and he did seem to have decent understanding of what happened. (more…)

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ricky1.2SOUNDTRACK“WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC-Alapalooza (1993).

Weird_Al_Yankovic_-_AlapaloozaAlapalooza came out hot on the heels of Off the Deep End.  I was in college, the perfect time for a “Weird Al” rebirth.  And the fact that “Jurassic Park” and “Bedrock Anthem” had a great videos (and my college cafe played MTV), meant I got to see these videos quite a bit.  (So I was surprised to read recently that this album didn’t sell like gangbusters (it went gold whereas Off the Deep End went platinum)).

“Jurassic Park” is a crazy wonderful parody–a spoof on the crazy song “MacArthur Park,” a song that I like a lot because it is over the top and absurd, although truth be told, I like “Jurassic Park” better.

“Young Dumb and Ugly” is a heavy metal song this is certainly dumb.  This is one that parodies a style so well that it’s actually not a very fun song to listen to.  “Bedrock Anthem” is a Red Hot Chili Peppers mashup/parody with the intro from “Under the Bridge” melding into a rocking parody of “Give It Away.”  I’m not exactly sure that it works as a parody (the Yabba Dabba part is a wee bit forced) but the song rocks well and Al and co. do a great job with it.

I never much liked “Frank’s 2000″ TV.”  I’m surprised to read (Wikipedia) that it’s a style parody of early R.E.M.  I can kind of hear it but compared to some of his other style parodies, I don’t think it really works.  “Achy Breaky Song” is the most apt song, lyrically, ever: “Don’t play that song, that achy breaky song, the most annoying song I know.”  It’s surprisingly mean about the song it is parodying and it turns out the proceeds from the track were donated to United Cerebral Palsy, as both Cyrus and Yankovic felt that the song was “a little bit, well, mean-spirited.”  “Traffic Jam” is a synthy number that sounds like it’s from the 80s.

“Talk Soup” was commissioned as a new theme for the show Talk Soup.  Although the producers approved the lyrics and enjoyed the final result, they decided against using it.  Which I can understand as it would make a terrible TV theme song.  It sounds a bit like Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer.

“Livin’ in the Fridge” is a fun parody of Aerosmith and it really sounds like them.  This parody works both as a twist on the original and lyrically–it’s very funny.  “She Never Told Me She was a Mime” is a weird original.  It doesn’t sound like any other bands, and is kind of a classic rock type of song.  The lyrics are pretty funny, but not all that funny.  And there’s not all that much to enjoy musically.

“Harvey the Wonder Hamster” is an awesome anthem which at 21 seconds, can be enjoyed again and again and again.  It’s funny that I felt that “Talk Soup” sounded like Peter Gabriel because “Waffle King” is actually a style parody of Gabriel.  This is a weird song because the verses are good, but the chorus falls kind of flat.  But the final song is a wonderful twist on Al’s usual polka medley.  This is a polka version of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  I read complaints that it sounds too much like the original (which it doesn’t) but it’s a testament to Al’s skill as a mimic that he can make his crazy polka version (which is much faster and with lots of his silliness thrown in) sounds so much like queen.  It’s certainly an Al highlight.

After this release, Al put out Al in the Box a 4 CD box set and then a series of greatest hits type albums–an actual Greatest Hits and then a collection of Food Songs and TV Songs.  I would never have bought the Food album except that I got to meet him after a show and I wanted something for him to autograph (which he did).  He was super duper nice and very cool.

[READ: February 22, 2013] Ricky Ricotta Books 7

Dav Pilkey planned to do nine books in this series (with Martin Ontiveros adding pictures).  According to Wikipedia, he had serious family emergencies for a while, which is why such a prolific author had literally no output for a number of years (from 2007-2010).  It also explains why book 7 is the last book that Pilkey has written in the series.  But the good news is that he’s back writing and that the eighth book is due out in December.

Of 2014.  Oh.

Well, in the meantime we have this book to enjoy.  Ricky and the Mighty Robot are learning what is fun and what is not fun (most of the things that Ricky likes to do are too small  for the robot to do and are consequently not fun for him).  Meanwhile, Uncle Unicorn lives on Uranus.  And he has turned it into a universe-wide dumping ground for toxic waste. I really liked seeing that all of the other bad guys from the series had a cameo dumping their stuff on Uranus.

But then Uncle Unicorn has had enough of the trash and he wants to leave.  He plans on going to Earth, but he knows that Mighty Robot is his major enemy.  So he sends Mighty Robot a gift–a Ladybot who immediately hypnotizes him and chains him up.  And now Ricky is alone. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: “Me Ol’ Bamboo” (1968).

bamboo  rickymarsThis song comes from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang the movie.  It is a strange little set piece in the early section of the film.  In terms of the movie it is utterly absurd: Caracticus Potts (Dick van Dyke) is looking to make some quick cash.  He heads to a carny circus (that has just popped up) with his crazy haircutting invention.  A brawny guy sits down and gets a terrible scalping.  Potts runs away through various parts of the circus and ultimately ends up in the chorus-line-type set up with a dozen or so guys getting ready to sing this song.

When the song starts Potts is able to follow the routine fairly well, although he’s always a step or two behind. But by the second verse he is now in charge of the song, singing extra lyrics and then doing a bit of a solo routine which the other guys then follow.  Now, I realize it’s a musical and as Clark asked the unasked question, “how do she know the song they sing when she is hearing it for the first time?” But even in the logic-defying world of musicals, shoehorning this set piece into Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a stretch.

And yet, if you’ve been reading, you know we watched this weeks ago and I can’t get it out of my head.  The song (weird as it is being about a bamboo pole) is really catchy.  And the dance routine is, simply, amazing.  I don’t know much about Dick van Dyke’s performing skills, but man he knocks it out of the park.  And, more amazingly, there are some really long takes before they cut away.  And ensemble of 12 or so doing a very complicated routine for more than a few measures is really impressive.

The more I watch it, the more impressed I am and the more I understand why they shoehorned it in.  Check it out:

[READ: February 22, 2013] Ricky Ricotta Books 4-6

This is the second set of three Ricky Ricotta books.  They don’t vary all that much from the first three–Ricky and his Might Robot get in trouble, and then they save the day.  What I did like was that Pilkey adds some valiant assistants who add a new dimension to the rather simple story.

In Book 4 Ricky and his Robot are bored of playing hide and seek so they decide to go skateboarding   The Robot uses the Ricotta’s minivan as a skateboard and of course, he crushes it.  His parents hold them responsible for paying for it (which Ricky calculates will take 259 years).  Meanwhile on Mars, Major Monkey hates living on a cold, dead planet and he wants to take over Earth.  But he has been watching what’s been going on down there and he knows what happened to the three previous villains (I though that was a nice touch).  He also knows that the Mighty Robot has stopped all of their plans.  So he sends a decoy to distract the Robot.

The decoy says that Mars is in trouble so the Mighty Robot flies off to help.  But when he gets there he is trapped by Major Monkey’s ambush and he is stuck on Mars!  Then Major Monkey flies aback to Earth knowing no one can stop him. (more…)

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tippy SOUNDTRACK: “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC-UHF Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1989).

UHFsingleHot on the success of Even Worse, Al was given the green light to make a movie.  It was called UHF and it tested very well with audiences.  But then it tanked at the box office (well, it made back the money but little more).  Although it has since gained a huge following as a cult movie.  It is very weird indeed (and Kramer is in it!) but it’s also very quotable and quite funny.  The soundtrack has a few songs and skits from the movie as well as a few extra songs that were not in the movie.  And, despite it’s rather middling status as a soundtrack, it features a couple of Al’s best songs.

“Beverly Hillbillies” is a surprisingly effective pastiche of Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” and the theme from the “Beverly Hillbillies.”  The fact that Al originally wanted to use a prince song (but was not given permission) shows just how creative he can be to twist it around in a totally different way.  Mark Knopfler plays guitar.  Another sci-fi original is “Attack of the Radioactive Hamsters from a Planet Near Mars.”  It kind of updates “Slime Creatures from Outer Space” which also wasn’t that good.  “Isle Thing” is a parody of Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing” which is about Gilligan’s Island, but from the POV of someone who hasn’t watched the show and whose girlfriend is hooked on it.  It’s surprisingly funny   It’s interesting that Tone Loc sampled Van Halen, but I believe Al’s band plays the whole thing.

The Medley returns on this album (sorely missed on Even Worse).  Strangely, “The Hot Rocks Polka” is a medley of Rolling Stones songs.  The theme song “UHF” is a good theme song.  It’s funny but more importantly it explains the movie nicely.

The disc also includes snippets from the movie Gandhi II promo.  “Let Me Be Your Hog” is a 17 second clip from a show in the movie.  There’s also the awesome commercial for Spatula City.  And “Fun Zone” is a 2 minute instrumental that is the theme to Stanley Spadowski’s Clubhouse.

“She Drives Like Crazy” is a parody of Fine Young Cannibals (the fact that Al can hit Roland Gift’s notes is quite impressive) although the song is merely okay.  “Generic Blues” is just that–an over the top version of any blues song you’ve heard.  Those few low points are more than made up for by these closing high points.  “Spam” is a great parody of R.E.M’s “Stand.”  It works as both parody and as its own lyrical theme.  “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota” is the first of Al’s epic songs (this one clocks in at almost 7 minutes).  It’s a story song told in the spirit of Harry Chapin’s  30,000 Pounds of Bananas.”  It’s one of my favorite early Al songs.  It’s fun and silly but it never loses focus.  And the thought of the family loving the biggest ball of twine is just too funny.  And who knew there were so many things that rhymed with Minnesota?

But the tanking of UHF meant that Al had to regroup.  And as he waited for the next Michael Jackson song to parody, a little thing called grunge happened.

[READ: February 22, 2013] Captain Underpants and the Terrifying reTurn of Tippy Tinkletrousers

Pilkey had been away from writing for several years with family emergencies.  So it has been six years since the previous Captain Underpants book–that’s a long time for most readers who may now feel too old for the books, although no doubt many new readers to the series (like me!) have sprung up in the meantime.

So, what does Pilkey do for his return?  He produces a 300 page epic!  One that brings back a bad guys from past books (as was promised in the last book), one that features a lot of mind bending time travel and, ultimately, one which focuses mostly on George and Harold as kindergarteners (five years before the usual present in his books).  And it is an amazing book, one that really shows how creative the boys are and one which deals with bullying–a subject that has never really been present in these books (except from the teachers).  Pilkey really created a great book (the other books were great too, but they were more slight.  This one is packed with goodness).  And I have to assume he aimed the books for slightly older audiences.

The book opens with the usual history of Captain Underpants by George and Harold, although given the six year absence, this one recaps everything that has gone before.  It also explains how in the last book, George and Harold were getting in trouble because of their evil twins from another dimension when Professor Poopypants (now named Tippy Tinkletrousers) showed up in his mechanical pants shooting ice rays at everyone.

Then Pilkey breaks the story and the animation style to introduce the banana cream pie paradox (in a very formal computer generated style of picture which really sets it apart).  In a nutshell–a man makes a banana cream pie.  He goes back in time and the tree that he got the bananas from is killed–so how can he have made the pie?  (His version is much funnier).  But the point is, be really really REALLY careful when you time travel. (more…)

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