Lana Del Rey: A Fine Line Between Serious and Boring

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It seems like these days everyone is in a rush to be taken seriously as an artist. You can hardly bat an eye before the next pop star is making his or her "serious artistic leap." Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber and Kesha have all done this in their own way in the past few years, but one particular example stands out to me.

Lana Del Rey has never been your average pop star. Her rise to fame and the subsequent backlash have led her on a strange roller-coaster ride. Either way, she's at the peak of her popularity now, and definitely a mainstream artist. While she's never made "fun" music per se, Del Rey has decided with her latest, Ultraviolence, that she wants to be taken seriously as an artist.

Unfortunately, apparently that means making boring music. It also forces us to ask ourselves: Does being serious as an artist really mean being boring?


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Why Can't We Let Dead Musicians Be Dead?

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Michael Jackson's hologram doppelganger at this year's Billboard Music Awards.
Recently you may have seen Michael Jackson on television, despite the fact that Michael Jackson has been dead for five years now. Through the use of hologram technology, his corpse has essentially been dug up and plastered on our TV screens, with herky-jerky movements and backing music crafted posthumously from antique scrapped recordings of the man's voice.

Freddie Mercury showed up at Queen's musical We Will Rock You in London. Tupac showed up at Coachella; Ol' Dirty Bastard and Eazy-E at Rock the Bells. It seems like this is where our society is headed into the future, and it raises an interesting question about us. Why can't we let the dead just be dead?


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Cynic's Big Admission Threatens Metal's Homophobia

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By now Cynic are legends in the metal scene. In 1993, they released their magnum opus Focus before quietly disbanding, but the album's impact was fully felt in the realms of technical and progressive metal, influencing younger bands for years to come.

They repeated the feat with 2008's reunion record Traced in Air, and have been chugging along ever since as one of the most celebrated and beloved prog-metal acts around. Oh, and principal members/songwriters Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert, without whom the band would not exist, are gay.

It's been an open secret for years, but the pair have come forward in their first major interview to discuss life as gay metal musicians, operating within a scene which has traditionally been less than open-minded or accepting of alternative lifestyles. This is a huge step for everyone in the metal community, and here's why.


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Why the New Wu-Tang Clan Album Should Not Happen

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Photo by Katya Horner
Wu-Tang Clan at House of Blues in 2012
As of late, Wu-Tang Clan leader RZA has been acting with a single-minded purpose: making a new Wu-Tang album happen, against all odds. He's already titled it A Better Tomorrow and dropped a couple of singles to promote the album; even as projected release dates have come and gone, he's admitted that he's struggled to get the other eight members in a room together.

Nominally, this would be get me excited. Even though Wu-Tang's last few collaborative efforts have been mixed affairs, the individual members involved have been firing on all cylinders for several years now. However, there are some really good reasons this album should not happen at all.


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Amazon's Funniest One-Star Classic Album Reviews

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Photo by Nathan Rupert via Flickr
As a music writer, it can be beneficial to seek out other music reviews to see what people are thinking, aficionados and trolls alike. Let's look at Amazon, a popular site where I admit I've spent a bit of money and time. You can find anything here, down to your most basic grocery-shopping needs.

As with all other comment sections, really, Amazon's consumer reviews can be deafening. These critics have opinions that they absolutely have to defend, or else they just want attention. Others just get really excited sharing their naysaying opinions, and sites like Amazon provide a wide audience. Today we thought we'd help widen some of these reviewers' audiences (hopefully alongside our own) with a top-notch, annotated selection of Amazon's one-star album reviewers.


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The Pixies Should Just Retire Already

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Photo by Groovehouse
The Pixies in 2010, the way everyone remembers them
Tomorrow night, Houston will witness the return of legendary indie-rockers the Pixies. It's their first show in town since 2010, and obviously a lot has changed about them since then. If you'll recall, the last time was at Verizon Wireless Theater, playing all of second album Doolittle in lieu of any new material, since at the time they didn't have any.

Well, Verizon Wireless Theater is now Bayou Music Center, and the Pixies are playing in the rechristened venue with brand-new songs and a brand-new bassist in the form of Paz Lenchantin, who you may remember from Billy Corgan's Zwan and A Perfect Circle.

Not everyone is excited, though, including me, and I'll tell you why. It's time for the Pixies to retire.


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Do Musicians Have Any Business Starring in Ads?

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Bob Dylan shoots pool for Chrysler -- does that make him a sellout?
It's a real testament to our consumerist culture that one of the biggest events of the year for many people is seeing a series of high-budget adverts in the midst of a sports game. A significant amount of people tune in to the Super Bowl every year not because they care about football or even the halftime show, but to see the clever ways businesses came up with to sell something to them.

That in itself is about the least counterculture, anti-establishment thing in the world, so it's no surprise that people are upset that a counterculture, anti-establishment icon like Bob Dylan starred in this year's Chrysler commercial. It's not the first time controversy like this has erupted either. Remember when John Lydon started shilling Country Life butter? So much for punk, right?

But let's take a serious look at this for a moment. This isn't about Bob Dylan, this is a larger issue. Is it really so wrong for musicians, regardless of their reputation, to appear in ads? Is it so wrong for them to use their image to sell us products?


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Should Bands Play What We Want to Hear?

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The guilty party in question.
This question comes up time and time again in discussions about live concerts, and it seems like it's going to come up again now. Recently post-hardcore/indie-rock band Brand New played some shows on the East and West coasts performing their full-length records in their entirety. It was a bold move by a band with a deeply loyal fan base.

Well, that loyal fan base seemed to be stretched to their breaking point by a performance of Brand New's most recent record, 2009's Daisy. Daisy met with a mixed reception because Brand New had changed up their sound once again, and the fans at those shows made it very clear they wanted to hear songs from Brand New's other records instead.

Some fans were so outraged by their brethren that they started a Tumblr dedicated to heckling the hecklers. Personally, I have to ask the question again: Should bands play what we want to hear?


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Why Greatest-Hits Albums Matter, and 10 Greatest-Hits Haikus

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Photo by Creative Commons Wikipedia
Damn it!! They are always sold out of Hall and Oates!!
A solid album, to me, is what I have dubbed a "Front-to-Back." I have two definitions for Front-to-Backs: 1) albums that are structured to listen to as an entire piece of artwork (like Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall, or Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea); and 2) albums that are full of amazing work, allowing you to not have to, or want to, skip songs (some that come to mind are Weezer's "Blue Album" and Pinkerton and the Stones' Let it Bleed).

Under those definitions, I do not believe that many bands make solid albums anymore. However, of those that do, even these albums are often not heard beyond their most popular tracks.

Right now, the vast majority of music that reaches the general public in full-length format is structured around two or three (or worse, just one) songs that are manufactured to be radio singles. When these singles are extracted, what remains is often forgettable filler and garbage.


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Axl And Slash, Still Causing Trouble

Rocks Off is following our sister Houston Press blogs into the choppy waters of "Comment of the Day," choosing a comment or a handful of comments from the previous day we find especially enlightening, infuriating or just plain hilarious. We're glad our readers have opinions, whatever they are, about what we write, and encourage them to keep 'em coming.

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Sorry, folks, Rocks Off has not heard anything further about a possible burying of the hatchet and subsequent whipping out of the axe between the screeching Guns N' Roses crab-walker and his top-hatted former guitarist.

But even the mere hint of an onstage Axl/Slash reunion is enough to get the comments pouring in, comments like these from our post about musicians who might - emphasis on might - make their way to town in 2011.


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