Posts Tagged ‘Maria McKee’

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

To my ears and soul, Life Is Sweet is not just one of the greatest lost albums of all time, but one of the greatest, period. It’s glam. It’s rock. It’s operatic. It’s art.

The story behind it: While touring in support of her country-rock classic You Gotta Sin to Get Saved in 1993, one of the members of Maria’s band is said to have given her a mixtape of classic glam and glitter tunes. Maria listened. Loved. Obsessed. And then wrote and recorded a set of songs, released in 1996, that blended those glittery hues of yore with dramatic colors of her own design.

“Scarlover,” the opening track, is a great example. It’s rough, ragged and refined all at the same time, with guitars giving way to strings that give way to guitars, set to Maria’s seemingly stream-of-conscious admission that “ugly inside of me taught me of beauty/I wouldn’t trade that work of art.”

As a whole, the album explores self-doubt, self-loathing and, ultimately, self-acceptance. At times, yes, it’s stasis in darkness (aka Sylvia Plath set to song). More than that, however, it’s Maria McKee unshorn, seemingly exploring her rapid-cycle bipolar disorder in ways that both replicate it and make it relatable. It’s the Bowie homage “Absolutely Barking Stars” with lyrics that delve into yin-yang duality… 

…and the dramatic “I’m Not Listening,” in which she attempts to ignore the voices inside her head that are taunting and haunting her. 

The utterly catchy “Everybody” explores celebrity and Andy Warhol’s infamous “15 seconds of fame” maxim: “We’ve all been flirting/with the perfect day/when they think we’re perfect/Yeah, but who are they?” There’s also a flat-out incendiary guitar break:

“Carried” is another highlight:

And, of course, there’s the title track, which may well be the greatest song she’s yet written or recorded. 

Geffen, her record label, hated the album. AAA radio stations like WXPN, which embraced and promoted the hell out of You Gotta Sin, refused to play it. Some critics slammed it. Some fans did, too. Artistic growth often comes at a price, and in this case the cost was Maria’s major-label career. Life Is Sweet failed to sell, and she left Geffen not long thereafter. The album also fell out of print, and has never been reissued, even digitally. (A true crime against art.)

Twenty-plus years since its release, however, and it sounds as fresh and hauntingly familiar as it did upon first listen. If you like Anna Calvi, Bat for Lashes, and similar dramatic acts, seek it out. You won’t be disappointed.

The track list:

  1. Scarlover
  2. This Perfect Dress
  3. Absolutely Barking Stars
  4. I’m Not Listening
  5. Everybody
  6. Smarter
  7. What Else You Wanna Know
  8. I’m Awake
  9. Human
  10. Carried
  11. Life Is Sweet”
  12. Afterlife

Of late, Facebook has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. As most folks now know, unscrupulous data miners utilized a personality-quiz app to scrape the innards of millions upon millions of profiles, and then used the information to push political ads during the 2016 election aimed at dissuading Democrats from voting and boosting Republican turnout. Micro-targeted ads, of course, are tailored for specific audiences. In this case, they played off of the hopes and/or fears that the scraped data indicated they have. 

There’s still much we don’t know, however, such as what the ads looked like – and whether they worked. But we do know this: It’s a foreshadow of what’s to come, writ large, and not just for political advertisements or on Facebook. It’s the wave of the future.

I should note that, somehow, my data wasn’t scraped. So the political ads in question came to me the old-fashioned way: by hook, not crook. Someone reacted vociferously to an ad, in other words, and decided to share their outrage or support. (And then I, in turn, ignored it.) In fact, after downloading my 10 years’ worth of Facebook data a few weeks back, what became obvious is that, by and large, the ads I interact with are music-related (artists, albums, concerts) or, more broadly, entertainment-related. (Veronica Mars meet Jason Bourne!)

Hmmm…I wonder why?

All that being said, I happen to like and enjoy Facebook. After a long day at the office, or even during a long day at the office, it provides a quick pick-me-up – Charlie Brown cartoons, silly animal videos, and music recommendations from friends and sponsored ads. It’s also a good way to keep up with friends old and new, as well as a few pets of said friends.

Anyway, I was “tagged” on Facebook several times over the past few weeks regarding one of the latest memes to make the rounds, which is supposed to be played out over 10 days: “In no particular order – 10 all-time favorite albums that really made an impact and are still on your rotation list, even if only now and then. Post the cover, no need to explain, and nominate a person to do the same. Today, I nominate…[insert tag].” After some internal back-and-forth, I gave into the whim and shared 10 “all-time favorite albums” over the next 10 days.

I hasten to add: They are not my All-Time Top 10 picks, just 10 albums I love. And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: 10 All-Time Favorite Albums, Part 1.

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Day 1: Lone Justice – Lone Justice. The 1985 debut of Maria McKee’s old band needs no introduction on these pages. It sounds as fresh to my ears now as it did then. It was the first pick for my occasional “Essentials” series. 

Day 2: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Another “Essentials” pick. 

Day 3: Rumer – Seasons of My Soul. And yet another “Essentials” pick. (See a pattern here?)

Day 4: The Bangles – Different Light. A future “Essentials” pick. Despite their success, the Bangles are one of the most underrated bands in the annals of rock ’n’ roll. (Why they aren’t in the Rock Hall of Fame is beyond me.) And this album is a sheer delight.

Day 5: Paul McCartney & Wings – Band on the Run. Another future “Essentials” pick. It should need no introduction to any self-respecting rock fan. 

I’d planned to trip back in time today to the fabled Summer of Love, but found myself distracted by the events of the present.

As I write, Hurricane Irma is ravaging Florida’s west coast. We’ve weathered a few hurricanes here in the Delaware Valley through the decades, though nothing of Irma’s magnitude – we’re far enough inland that they’re generally teetering on tropical status by the time they reach us. But I remember one – Irene I believe, in 2011 – that found Diane and I, and our wooly bully of a cat, huddled in our stairwell (the safest place in our old apartment) while the storm thrashed outside and tornado warnings flashed incessantly on our cell phones.

Storms (of all kinds) eventually pass, just never as fast as we would like.

1) Which leads to the first entrant in today’s Top 5, “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Springsteen wrote it following a storm of another stripe, of course, and paired the joyous melody with bittersweet lyrics about overcoming grief.

2) Storms, as evidenced by that Bruce song, work well as metaphors. This Nanci Griffith song, which was penned by her former husband, Eric Taylor, is another example…

3) …as is this one from the Nobel Prize-winning bard, Bob Dylan:

4) There’s also this classic from Neil Young:

5) And, finally, “Shelter” from Lone Justice, a song I could play on a loop for weeks on end.