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Old 11-22-2018, 03:04 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default The Trials and Tribulations of the $5 Mystery Bag Buyer

In my home city of Rochester NY, there's a shop called the Record Archive which I've frequented quite a bit in recent years. Although the store has some really odd and easily fixable organization issues, the selection therein is actually pretty good. The best part by far is the clearance section, because as a money hungry jew who doesn't want to part with money exceeding five bucks without a fair bit of consideration, I can pick up a ton of records (not in that bad of condition, mind you) for only around a dollar each. It's brilliant.

Up at the registers, Record Archive has a table dedicated to a product unique to their store: the $5 "mystery bags". The are small brown paper bags with ten CDs stuffed inside that sell for only 5 dollars. They usually have some crudely done, hand-drawn picture on the outside depicting cartoon characters like Beavis & Butthead exclaiming how great the bags are. I was totally hooked on the idea the first time I saw them and bought one on the spot. It only took a single bag to realize that all the store had done was re-package CDs nobody wanted to buy and made it out to seem like you were getting a wonderful prize full of cool discs that you'd never heard of before.

So far I believe I've bought 3 of these bags because at a certain point I basically said **** it and wanted to see how bad the CDs could get. Although most of the bag's contents are mixed within my actual CD collection, I've located most of them and now will go through each one to see if any of them have a semblance of merit whatsoever.

For the first of these gems I'd like to explore, I've chosen:

98 Degrees - 98 Degrees And Rising

Although I would say I'm incredibly unfamiliar with 98 Degrees and the boy band craze of the 1990's, I am familiar enough to recognize this particular album as the group's best seller. It was certified quadruple platinum in the United States, had two songs on the Billboard's top 5, and had two others featured on major motion picture soundtracks. If you doubted the power of a 90's teen pop record before, it's time to get #woke to the facts.

My opening this review with sales statistics kind of encapsulates the culture albums like this belong to; boy bands were known for being blatant industry creations made for sole purpose of generating hits. Nothing better exemplifies corporatism in the music biz than the archetypal boy band. This stands to reason why music aficionados would despise this sort of thing- with corporatism usually comes artificiality, as you would assume as the wish for the record to make money gets the top priority, creativity and soul get pushed far down the totem pole in comparison.

This all being said, I will attempt to put my prejudices towards this brand of music aside to give it a fair shake.

At a glance, this record is a bit...mishmashed. It's a jumbled collection of covers, sample-based songs, and many different writing credits, all of which follow closely to the boy band formula. After a cute, self-referential intro, the album leaps into 'Heat it Up', which is basically the members of 98 and backups singing over the soul band Slave's '79 hit Just A Touch of Love. Although a bit disingenuous as the album parrots this song as original, Just A Touch has a extremely memorable bass hook and the boys of 98 have some alright singing skills, making this song in particular not extremely painful to listen to. It's more lukewarm 90's camp for the most part (and "not even trying" for the rest). The only other track I'd call somewhat interesting on here is 'True to Your Heart', a rollicking funk tune that features the forever-awesome Stevie Wonder as writer and vocalist, who still sounds great despite rapidly approaching 50. Apparently this song was in Mulan but I cannot for the life of me remember it being so, though I do get a chuckle out of imagining this playing alongside the bloody conflicts of the Han-Xiongnu war.

As you might have guessed, the best (and I do use that term loosely) songs are either featuring or based off of samples of actually good musicians' work. 'Do You Wanna Dance' is backed by a lifeless sample of Kool & The Gang's Get Down On It, 'Fly With Me' is based on ABBA's seminal Dancing Queen, and 'To Me You're Everything' obliterates EW&F's Fantasy. As this is at the very least lazy and at the most insulting to the original artists, I wouldn't necessarily call these songs "good" as simply having golden crutches doesn't make me like the crippled pretty boys using them. "Tolerable" is the best term to use.

Those aside, the more "original" tracks on the album are, for the most part, bland beyond bland. 'The Hardest Thing', written by The System's David Frank and Tin Tin's Steve Kipner, is about as generic as generational pop can get. Same goes for 'Because of You'. They both have that insipid, electronic percussion that was irritatingly popular in 90's teen R&B, and the vocal work is flat and shallow. For being the two tracks to spend time on the Billboard's Hot 100, they may very well be the most boring of the lot. Contain your surprise please.

If you truly want the best track on the whole album, it's 'Give It Up', the minute-and-a-half interlude at #8. It's the one song to be written solely by the members of 98, is done completely a capella, and is the one track that shows the band's camaraderie in full view. Obviously it's not a masterpiece, nor it isn't meant to be. But as it's bookended by a bunch of mediocre teen pop drivel, it definitely stands out. 98 Degrees, unlike many of their boy band peers, formed independently before being signed to a major label. 'Give it Up' shows that little bit of original ambition that I'm sure kickstarted the group, and for that I guess I'm somewhat grateful.

SALVAGEABILITY: Although my pretentious spirit rears its ugly head when faced with an album like this, I truly can't find anything to really despise about it. That said, god damn is it ****ing boring. Even the most interesting songs, 'True To Your Heart' and 'Give it Up', are not nearly enough to salvage an album that's just a straight up bore back-to-front. Still, for what it is, 2 outta 13 ain't bad. UNSALVAGEABLE.
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Old 11-22-2018, 03:22 PM   #2 (permalink)
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I think I know exactly what insipid style of 90's electronic beat you're referring to and I hate it too.
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Old 11-22-2018, 03:28 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Great start, and at least you're getting something out of those awful CD's.

Looking forward to what's next.
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Old 11-22-2018, 03:43 PM   #4 (permalink)
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I think I know exactly what insipid style of 90's electronic beat you're referring to and I hate it too.
This one.
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Old 11-22-2018, 03:53 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Close enough! I was thinking something like this:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0debAXDUmpc
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Old 11-22-2018, 04:00 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Isn't there another shop in Rochester? There's apparently a copy of The Black Rider on the wall and I've been meaning to drive up to get it.
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Old 11-22-2018, 04:07 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Isn't there another shop in Rochester? There's apparently a copy of The Black Rider on the wall and I've been meaning to drive up to get it.
I'm most familiar with House of Guitars, Needledrop Records, RA and The Bop Shop. Couldn't tell you which one had the Waits album, though.
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Old 11-22-2018, 05:38 PM   #8 (permalink)
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There will always be at least one unassailable boy band album.



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Step off, bitch.
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Old 11-22-2018, 09:59 PM   #9 (permalink)
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T.D.F. - Retail Therapy

This is one of those WTF albums that make you scratch your head and wonder which idiot savant's idea it was to make it happen. T.D.F (which I guess stands for Totally Dysfunctional Family) was a relatively short-lived project consisting of producer Simon Climie and Eric ****ing Clapton (under the brilliant pseudonym "X-Sample"). From the looks of it, Climie is an on and off producer and songwriter who's done work in groups like Climie Fisher as the other half of a duo with Naked Eyes' Rob Fisher, and Eric Clapton is...well, Eric Clapton. Paul Waller (who's done programming jobs like on Bjork's Debut) provides percussion. A bit of an odd combo between the three for sure but not nearly as weird as the product of their collaboration is.

Born out of a previous collaboration between the two for a 1996 Giorgio Armani fashion show, Retail Therapy is by far the oddest album I've pulled from the mystery bags, and not in the sense that the actual music within is off-the-wall. Essentially what this is is new-age-infused, drum and bass-oriented EDM with Eric Clapton playing over it. It far outstrips Clapton's previous works in terms of weirdness alone, although seeing as for the twenty years leading up to it's release he'd been making some of the most milquetoast, white-collar blues rock known to man, it's not exactly a tough feat.

I'm just gonna get down into the nitty-gritty with this one- it sucks. It sucks big ****ing time. Most of the time the album consists of stock ambient electronica with sickening inflections of new age and R&B- 'What She Wants' literally sounded like I was still listening to 98 Degrees all over again. Clapton's guitar improvisation over the EDM is good in a strictly technical sense but it ultimately lacks purpose because it's not presiding over anything of any real value. Waller's percussion is particularly bad in certain parts, such as on 'Blue Rock' which is a misplaced attempt at mimicking 90's house (and I'm not sure if this is me but the beat sounds straight up ripped from Bjork's There's More to Life Than This. Maybe it's just common, but he did do work on that, remember). The use of the Amen break on 'Seven', which is probably the best track of the bunch, sounds awkward and hollow backing both B.B. King samples and Clapton's electric guitar.

Every idea on this thing feels halfbaked and poorly planned, as if the musicians involved had a concept for what they wanted to do but didn't know exactly how to execute it. Because of this, Retail Therapy ends up sounding more like a mediocre EDM producer who's out of his depth reluctantly wrestling with a guitar legend of yore who desperately wants to be one of the cool kids he's seen doing ollies on television.

SALVAGEABILITY: Look, I know Eric was going through rehab during the creation of this album, but that's no excuse for it sounding so sterile. Ultimately the T.D.F. project bombed like hell because, turns out, nobody wants to hear Eric Clapton ape Moby. A for effort Clap but by god at least proofread your work before turning it in. UNSALVAGEABLE.
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Old 11-22-2018, 10:01 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Step off, bitch.
Hey, I love the song. Problem is everyone wanted to make an I Want It That Way so everyone used the same drum beat.
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