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Two Big Issues From the Neglected Kosterian Mail Bag

By Rick Koster

Publication: theday.com

Published February 14. 2012 1:28PM   Updated February 14. 2012 1:29PM

In response to recurrent demands, I shall forthwith address the following two questions:

WHAT DO I THINK OF THE NEW VAN HALEN?

I've only heard a few tracks. Life is short and money is tight and, despite my agreement that the original incarnation of the band and their first four albums are immortal, I'm not going to probably spend the cash to buy it. One way or another, though, I'll have listened to it comprehensively by their March 3 date in the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Based on what I HAVE heard, David Lee seems to be able to whoop with the enthusiasm of old, particuarly since a lot of the album is comprised of re-worked demos from the '70s. (Although it's sorta disturbing to imagine a 55-year-old Diamond Dave sitting at the beach, perched on his inflatable ass-ring so his hemmies don't burn, howling boorish come-ons to bikini'd women: "ooh la la!" and "I love 'em, I need 'em" and whatever might have spontaneously combusted during the recording of "Hot for Teacher."

Yes, the 25-year-old Dave was able to do that better than anyone else in finest frat-house fashion. And it's sorta hard to imagine any other purpose for Big Dave's whoopisms, in the context that, not being able to sing all that well to begin with, he frequently subsituted his whoops for actual lyrics and melody. If it's slightly queasy to imagine 55-year-old Dave whooping at Hooters waitresses, what, then, does he whoop about? Occupy Wall Street? "Ooh la la, Syrian uprisers!"? Not sure that works, either.

More importantly, Eddie seems to have recovered. The dude was by all accounts in a very bad, wine-sauteed state, and … presto! He's back! Relatively healthy and apaprently sober. Or let's hope so, anyway. It's going to be a long tour. I'll say this: I'm definitely looking forward to the Sun appearance.


It might help if you study the latest Chuck Klosterman essay on VH, which is found here on ESPN.com's Grantland site. Klosterman, I think, writes better about music and artists than any critic I've ever read. Lester Bangs was more colorfully entertaining but frequently lost the thread. Rolling Stone's David Fricke is reliably great. And Robert Christgau is bizarrely trustworthy in the spirit that, whatever band or album Christgau loves, I hate — and whatever he dismissed, I love. Almost 100 percent of the time. Uncanny.

But Klosterman? He's more prolific than Fricke and always thoughtful and provocative, whomever or whatever he's writing about.

WHAT DID I THINK ABOUT WHITNEY HOUSTON, AND ISN'T IT SAD?

Yes, it's horrible that she passed. She possessed one of the most amazing singing voices I've ever heard.

That said, I also blame her for inventing what I call "torture pop," which is that form of vocal masturbation Whitney and then folks like Mariah, Beyonce, Celine and Christina utilize to Over. Sing. Every. Stinkin'. Line.

Yes: we get that you folks have remarkable range and control. It is not necessary, though — indeed, it is excruciating — to hear you shoehorn 67 vocal trills into every bar of the song just to prove you can do it, or perhaps do more of it than your peers. I believe the technical adjective for what they're doing is "melismatic," which sounds, appropriately enough, like a vile tumor.

I've literally had to leave a Stop 'n' Shop one day when the store's canned music, unaccountably loud, sprewed out Houston's version of "I Will Always Love You." The late Christopher Hitchens voluntarily underwent waterboarding so he could write about the experience, and he did so eloquently and wretchingly. He did not, however, possess the courage to describe listening to WH strangle "I Will Always Love You."

In retrospect, that rendition seems to have been Ground Zero for Torture Pop, and the most subsequently accessible song through which these artists could practice TP to a captured audience was the National Anthem at televised sporting events.*

Over the years, the various and increasingly ghastly and melismatic takes on the National Anthem have frequently shattered my will to live. Worse: myriad contestants with LESS ability, appearing on the myriad network talent programs, do their inadequate best to sing melismatically — and the only thing worse than a melismatic pop or R&B vocal performance is a melismatic pop or R&B vocal performance done by someone who can't sing.

At that point, music becomes the listening equivalent of being one of the unfortunate backpacker in Hostel, and it becomes unspeakable.

So, God bless keep you, Whitney, RIP — I was in awe of your talent and sorry for the frequently tragic events of your life — but, yes, I blame you for a lot of really awful musical moments.

* Duly noted: Whitney's Super Bowl '91 take on the National Anthem was stunning and great.

 

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