Thursday, January 16th, 2014
13

How Should A Game Be?

Just like every year for at least the past half-decade, 2013 was the GREATEST YEAR EVER for games: the graphics more realistic, the worlds bigger, the narratives more cinematic. Bioshock Infinite and Grand Theft Auto V, the year's two highest-profile releases, won near-universal acclaim from the major games reviewers, and no wonder: with their intricately-detailed worlds and epic, violent stories full of tortured characters and twisting plots, they perfectly fulfilled the current standards for Quality Games.

But for perhaps the first time, much of the criticism these so-called AAA games inevitably received came not from the usual arbiters of moral decay, but from dedicated, engaged gamers. Bioshock was [...]

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4

The 15 Vanity Singles By "Real Housewife" Bravolebrities: One Is Actually Good!

While we have already addressed many fine full-length vanity albums, our album-oriented format has not allowed for the discussion of vanity singles: songs released by otherwise un-musical celebrities that are never followed by a full album. The most common contemporary source for these singles is undoubtedly reality TV stars. They are so common, in fact, that we can divide them into sub-genres, and this column will address the most visible one: singles by cast members of Bravo reality shows, which exist in their own little Bravo universe. The songs are often about their actions on the shows and often made with other cast members. They become the subject [...]

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7

The Japanese Pop Album Alyssa Milano Made As A Teenager

Celebrities may cut a vanity single, and some take the time to put together an entire album. But rarely do they get 5-album deals on the strength of their performance in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie and have several go platinum, only to have those albums sink into obscurity. But that's what happened to Alyssa Milano in the midst of her run as Tony Danza's daughter on "Who's the Boss?" Starting with 1989's Look in my Heart, she recorded four albums in four years for the Japanese market, and despite their commercial success, she rarely speaks of them today. Is her debut worthy of reconsideration?

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5

Eddie Murphy's 1980s 'Party' Album

A promo ad for this album says it all: "EDDIE MURPHY SINGS!!! / 'HOW COULD IT BE' ?!?" Nine years after Richard Pryor's …Is It Something I Said? held the number-one spot on the R&B charts for two consecutive weeks, only one of Murphy's first two albums, both recordings of his stand-up act, had squeaked its way into the top ten of that chart.

Though comedy LPs by Bill Cosby, Steve Martin, and Bob Newhart had been major commercial successes in the 60s and 70s, by the early 80s, audiences were turning to movies, TV, and video rental for their standup needs. (Pryor's landmark 1982 concert Live on [...]

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7

We, The People, Against The Zombies

The first in a series about monsters happening here through Halloween.

As usual, Tina Belcher put it best: "I'm not a zombiephile. I have a complicated relationship with zombies." Over the last decade, the pop-culture status of the undead has moved from "niche obsession" to "passé," inasmuch as a type of monster can be passé. Admit to an interest in certain quarters and you might as well be wearing a t-shirt that says, "Hi, I'm three years behind the times." Then there's the question of why so many zombie stories have been unleashed in the past few years: Why do so many of the undead walk among us [...]

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3

Brian Austin Green's "Beverly Hills 90210"-Era Rap Album

For some entries in our series on vanity projects, it was perhaps unfair to refer to them as such. Christopher Lee and Milla Jovovich's albums were legitimate art products made by people who also happened to be actors, while Lindsay Lohan and Ian McShane were simply extending their careers in logical, and successful, pop directions. This is not the case with Brian Austin Green, who played David Silver on the original "Beverly Hills, 90210." His 1996 album One Stop Carnival is a vanity project par negligence. (He went by just "Brian Green" for the album, which is at least less ridiculous than Allen Iverson [...]

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6

Christopher Lee's Concept Album: When Saruman Went Metal

Generally the problem with vanity projects is that the vanity object/subject seems less interested in making a good album than in getting credit simply for having made one at all. But for Christopher Lee, maybe the bare fact of him having recorded a metal album at the age of 88—Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross, a "symphonic metal" rock opera about the titular figure, was released in 2010—is worthy of praise in and of itself. Still, Lee, who made a veritable mountain of B-movie classics and was a rightfully beloved cult actor even before he played Saruman in the Lord of the Rings movies, shouldn't be allowed to coast [...]

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4

Listening To Lindsay Lohan's 2004 Debut Album

If everyone you know is making an album, is it really a vanity project when you make one, too, or is it just peer pressure? Such is the taxonomic problem with which we're faced when it comes to Speak, Lindsay Lohan’s 2004 Casablanca Records debut LP. While previous entrants in this series may have made their albums at the behest of savvy record labels, as with Ian McShane and Milla Jovovich, or to satisfy their own artistic ambition, as with Corey Feldman and Crispin Glover, the years surrounding Lohan’s album would see releases—some very good ones, it should be said—from peers like Paris Hilton, Mandy Moore, [...]

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14

What Are The Politics Of The Internet?

First in a series of two essays today on freedom and the Internet. Next: Google, Sci-Fi And The MTA.

Late last Friday, news broke that the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link, an online discussion board and community commonly referred to as the WELL, was on the verge of being shut down. Founded in 1985 as a dial-up BBS, the WELL is an enormously important part of internet history, both as a place where things happened and as a model for how discussion and community should work on the web; the comments system below this post owes its existence, in many ways, to the WELL. The site's ethos [...]

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2

The Lessons Of Yo La Tengo's Long Run

Last week, Gotham Books released Jesse Jarnow's Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock. It's a biography of the Hoboken indie rock lifers who've been a working band since the mid-80s, and always seem to opt for the slow and steady over the quick cash-in. What made Yo La Tengo able to do what so few bands have managed: not only stick together but continue to release new, vital music for almost three decades? Via email, I talked with Jesse, a friend, has been writing about culture in venues such as Rolling Stone and Spin for a solid couple decades himself, and shares not [...]

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9

Crispin Glover's 1989 Novelty Album About Clowns and Screaming

So far in this series on vanity projects, we've sampled the pleasant, the sad, and the surprisingly great, but now it's time to venture into the area most frequently associated with celebrity albums: the desperately weird. Crispin Glover has made a career out of being an elaborate, self-abasing weirdo, and his 1989 album The Big Problem ≠ The Solution. The Solution = Let It Be is his persona expressed in musical form. It came two years after his legendarily off-kilter bewigged appearance on "Late Night With David Letterman," during which he read aloud his own negative reviews and karate-kicked perilously close to Letterman's face, at which [...]

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9

The Cornel West Album That Larry Summers Kept Calling A Rap CD

While we've discussed Ian McShane, Corey Feldman and Milla Jovovich, this series on vanity projects has so far not addressed any album responsible for a major cultural scandal, academic controversy or employment change. This time, though, we're talking about Sketches of My Culture, the first album by legendary academic and all-around super-genius Cornel West. Released in 2001, it became one of the major points of contention in a dispute between West and then-Harvard President Larry Summers that eventually grew so heated West left the university for Princeton. As a concept, the album is appealing: maybe we should make pop music that also educates people about socialist perspectives [...]

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24

The Awesome Album Milla Jovovich Made When She Was 16

So far in this series dedicated to forgotten vanity projects past, we've addressed a pretty-good album by Ian McShane and an awful one by Corey Feldman. Now it's time for our first unabashed success. Milla Jovovich's The Divine Comedy, an acoustic art-rock timepiece heavily influenced by the Cocteau Twins and Kate Bush, is a vanity project, but it's one that entirely deserves a place in your collection.

But to put the album in its proper context, we'll have to explore a period in our history we might otherwise prefer to forget: mainstream pop culture of the mid-90s. The Divine Comedy came out in 1994, and so [...]

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6

Listening To The Corey Feldman Prog-Rock Record

In 2002, Corey Feldman was the canary in the reality-show coal mine. Before starring on the first season of VH1's "The Surreal Life," a show that spawned something like 16 spinoffs, the fallen star of Goonies and The Lost Boys produced an album which could stand as the unofficial soundtrack for the 00s' glut of celebrity reality shows. That Former Child Actor was going to be a wreck was evident before it even came out (maybe it was the promised cover of "Imagine" that tipped everyone off). But this series is dedicated to reassessing vanity projects past, no matter how unpromising, so let's do now what we [...]

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17

Ian McShane Made An Album In 1992: Would You Want To Listen To It?

"The vanity of others runs counter to our taste only when it runs counter to our vanity," Nietzsche wrote, but then he never had to listen to a Keanu Reeves album. What might possess a talented, accomplished person, one otherwise deliberate in all their career choices, to announce abruptly to the public, "Today I am a recording artist," and then sing their way through an entire album of covers—or worse, originals? The vanity album has produced a lot of misses, a few hits, and even the occasional legitimate musical career—it'll be our job here to sort them all out.

For instance: in 1992, Ian McShane, [...]

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16

When Did The Remix Become A Requirement?

Consider this: according to Discogs.com, about 800 remixes were released in 1983. In 1990, more than 4,000; in 2000, almost 15,000. And in 2010, there were 22,750 remixes released, an increase of more than 450% in twenty years. Not surprisingly, as that number has leapt up, remixes also have come to represent a much larger share of what's being released: in 1983, they accounted for 2% of all releases; 7% in 1990; 17% in 2000; until, by 2010, a staggering 20% of all releases were remixes.

How did we get to the point where a one-hit-wonder band from the '90s like Marcy Playground can release an entire [...]

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37

Photos of Sara: The Fake Stalker and His Secret Tumblr

Michael Walker was acting strangely. The 23-year-old Seattle soundman had just been re-introduced to Sara Merker, a college student a couple years older than he was, and the first thing he said was, "Can I take a picture of you for my blog?"

This was the second time Merker had really talked with Walker. The first time was a very brief interaction at a party about a year before. Now Merker was at a bar to meet Nick, a mutual friend, and Walker had tagged along. "I was like, why is this guy being weird to me?" said Merker. "I thought he was kidding. So I said, yeah, sure, let's [...]

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8

"We Are The World": When Michael Jackson Got Political

Part of a series on collaborations that we now take for granted but initially made little sense.

In November of 1984, Band Aid, an impromptu UK super-group organized by former Boomtown Rat Bob Geldof and pop mercenary Midge Ure, released "Do They Know It's Christmas?" The charity single, intended to aid the famine in Ethiopia, sold 3.5 million copies, making it the biggest-selling UK single until "Candle in the Wind '97." The song's massive success showed that there were sound commercial reasons for marrying pop music to charity causes, a now-familiar union. In this, it preceded, but was ultimately eclipsed by, the American iteration: USA for Africa's "We Are the [...]

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9

You Got Gamified! How Our Government Runs Like Foursquare

For all the political heaving to-and-fro that characterized our recent efforts to raise the debt ceiling, what President Obama signed on Wednesday wasn't really a piece of budgetary policy. Aside from raising the debt ceiling, cutting loans to grad students and capping the budgets of certain programs (like disaster relief), it didn't do anything to affect the debt. What the Budget Control Act of 2011 represents, rather, is the rulebook for an entirely new game. A special joint Congressional committee will meet in November and attempt to agree on $1.5 trillion in debt reduction. (The Congressional Budget Office will serve as the refs.) If they fail to come to an [...]

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9

Selections From V.S. Naipaul's Yelp Account

Wienerville, USA Categories: Fast Food, Hot Dogs

My fellow Yelpians, do not be fooled by the exterior trappings of this eatery. Yes, the vividly saturated jonquil marquee and the weathered red-brick façade are a beacon to lusty travelers, promising the sensual delights of a meat well-cured. But this covenant is dishonored by the feminine banalities littering the menu. Consider their description of the Southwestern Dog: "Howdy, partner! This all-beef dog is smothered in red-bean chili, melted provolone, jalapenos and white onion. Yee-haw!" How like a woman to keep one's view so resolutely in the kitchen! How like a woman to express nature's redness of tooth and claw with the limp [...]

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