Music Box Report Card: My Favorite CDs of 2011

(Hey, I’m my own worst editor, so beware my pontificating. If you wanna edit me pro bono, I’m all ears. Call me.)

Though my lack of writing of late has more to do with my ADD than it does with any laziness to share my opinion (something I rarely have any problem with), it’s hard writing about music sometimes. I’ve been writing my Musical Report Card for decades in some capacity – every year, I write a Best and Worst list, something I’ve been doing for all those years. I used to post reviews on Amazon; during the early Aughts, I would send out my Musical Report Card to a distribution list with hundreds of names on it; I would post the MRC on my now-defunct Myspace blog too, and during the prehistoric, pre-Internet years, I had little outlet other than to print the occasional article in my school newspaper. Yet, lately, my thoughts are stunted. I’ll listen to a CD I love, yet words and thoughts sometimes fail to converge with the actual pen and paper. I do jot down thoughts randomly, but more often than not, they’re within the limits of a 140 character tweet or a Facebook post. And I don’t have an explanation for such.

What’s the point of writing if you’re not going to share, no matter how often you set those thoughts to text or how short the scroll? And, if you have your own blog you apparently love, why squander your opines by allowing  your words to sit on your desktop as a word document?

So, what better way to divulge my tastes than to join the countless other “Best & Worst of the Year” chicaneries that the rest of the blogosphere and printed world do? I’m always loath to use the term “best” and/or “worst”, though I do it often. Taste is subjective, and my tastes buds are no more or less superior to yours (I mean, unless you like Katy Perry. Than mine are more superior, clearly). So, let’s just call this list what it really is – my favorite CDs of these past twelve months.

However, I won’t limit myself to a ‘ten’ or a ‘dozen’ or even a ‘baker’s dozen’ (as I usually do). And these are in no real particular order, really. Perhaps the first three or four are in preference (they are my most listened to albums on my iTunes chart), but as the list progresses, I just relish the incandescent moments that 2011 has nourished my soul with. Beware my pontification.

Perusing the lyrics of fellow Odd Future members’ solo works, one has to wonder how Tyler, The Creator and Frank Ocean coalesce in the same universe, let alone that Rap collective. “I’m stabbing any blogging faggot hipster with a pitchfork” Tyler sermonizes on “Yonkers”, from his latest CD, GOBLIN, whose title cut assures, “I’m not homophobic, faggot”. (there are plenty more “fags”, “faggots” and “dykes” polluting the CD). Ocean, on the other end of the musical, well, ocean, muses, “I believe that marriage isn’t between a man and woman but between love and love…” The apparent incongruent beliefs between two members of the same group are astounding – but while I’m completely oblivious to Odd Future’s artistic output, with what I’ve heard of their solo works, Tyler is Jackie Collins to Ocean’s Ernest Hemingway. Pissed at Def Jam’s obvious lack of interest (fear?) in releasing nostalgia/ULTRA, Ocean took to his Tumblr account last February and posted this exhilarating opus himself. Amazing word of mouth tempted Def Jam to announce an “official” release for this past summer, but thankfully that didn’t happen, because – from the apocalyptic Coldplay revision that’ll make you weep, to his improving the Eagles classic (albeit, intolerable) “Hotel California” as the most profound dissection of marriage and divorce I’ve heard in years (the next time I actually hear the guitar refrain on classic Rock radio, I’ll think of Ocean) to invoking Stanley Kubrik (Nicole Kidman via EYES WIDE SHUT)  and writing the best dentist/sex song since Lonnie Johnson’s “Toothache Blues”, from his reworking  MGMT’s “Electric Feel” as a tearful ode to his father, to cryptic lyrics about sexuality in “Songs For Women” – this “unofficial” work of art cements the uncleared samples intact and his genius lyricism blooms under his own terms.

Getting soft as I slowly sludge toward middle age, my natural aversion to ‘quirk’ seems to – on a whim of its own – dissipate most randomly. I realized this months ago while absorbing the tUnE-yArDs’ w h o k i l l,  an outré of anomalous sounds, Afro-Pop rhythms, and Merrill Garbus’ remarkable vox voicing daftly brilliant, sometimes cryptic lyrics in dexterous wordplay, juxtaposed and intertwined within unwonted rhythmic cadences. What appears an overwhelming fragmentation of various soundscapes on initial listen morphs into a deeply and beautifully cacophonous yet cohesive whole. Gargus is a true heteroclite in the best sense of the word and what separates her opus from the typical hipster oeuvre is, for all its seeming chichi-ness, there’s no preconceived pretentiousness about this collection – it’s pure congenital joy. True, I might have no idea what it all means, but I had a helluva time trying to figure it all out. And will continue to do so.

It would be easy to proclaim that the neophyte chanteuse of 2008s 19 had “passed the audition” if that collection were even merely subpar – it wasn’t; despite its Brit-soul clichés, it was her supernal instrument that elevated it beyond mediocrity. But what a difference a few years makes. I’m loath to use an overused cliché like “concept”, but Adele’s 21 is the break-up album of this century, an astonishing collection with a musical and lyrical depth that seems to gainsay her youth. The wisdom of the content alone sears the soul, from the guttural gospel stomp of the nouveau-classic “Rolling In The Deep” to the shattering “Someone Like You”, which laser-beams straight into your heart and decimates it on contact (dole out a little extra for the deluxe edition – the live version will scorch your heart apart until you’re weeping in the dark), the emotional range of “Turning Tables” and “Take It All” to the country-tinged heartbreak of “Don’t You Remember”. That she’s able to transcend genres – from gospel to country to rock to soul – is testament to her power, and because of that soaring gift (the “voice of God”, according to Beyonce), very little sounds like filler or fodder, even the loungey arrangement on the Cure’s “Lovesong”. A revelation.

Van Hunt’s excellent Grammy-nominated debut was released during the over-saturation of neo-soul releases that defined the early aughts, but he refused to be shackled into that wheelhouse for too long. With each sequential release, he announces that he’s infinitely more than meets the eye – or ears. WHAT WERE YOU HOPIN FOR? explodes with a concoction of shimmery sounds, punk overtures, sweet psychedelic soul melodies, and hard rock conventions, resulting in a non-conformist artist finally finding his own id. His anonymity is a crime.

Not so committed that I take real-life couple Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker’s lyrics as autobiography, but reading lines from Wussy’s STRAWBERRY like “You removed the ampersand from in between your name and mine…” and “Does he cross all your T’s, does he dot all your I’s, does he tell you more believable lies?” conjure enough guttural devastation that I can’t help but think of the two greatest couples-in-turmoil albums of all time, Richard and Linda Thompson’s SHOOT OUT THE LIGHTS and Fleetwood Mac’s RUMOURS. Am I totally being selfish if I’m thrilled at the prospective art if they’re soon-to-be-exes? This is Wussy’s fifth great album in a row. How often can any band stake that claim?

The music’s harder than on the triumphant THE WAY I SEE IT, and like that neo-classic, Raphael Saadiq’s STONE ROLLIN’ is never hook-deficient. Once again stitching together indelible grooves, Philly Soul, Motown, Stax, rockabilly, rhythm and blues, nothing sounds or feels pastiche.  And if it’s less the traditionalist archetype than the predecessor, as one friend suggested, well, that’s the problem with a preceding musical piece of heaven-on-earth: duplication anticipation. Either/or, it’s not for Saadiq’s lack of intestinal fortitude or his one-man-band aesthetic but rather maybe a more precluded notion of song in lieu of musical fluidity. But, hey, for what that’s worth, I’ve danced to no other music harder this year.

If anyone tells you that there’s anything derivative about Foster the People’s debut album, tell them to get over their highfalutin selves. Foster – and TORCHES – isn’t out to change the world, and only the tin-eared would deny the delicious, significant sing along melodies and contagious choruses.  Teetering on the edge between dance music and experimentation, they craft the hookiest treat for the ears in recent memory.

Will we ever know (or fully comprehend) the impetus behind Eef Barzelay’s bizarre spelunking of the Journey catalog? I mean, fucking JOURNEY?!?! Weren’t they, like, the worst band of the 1980s? Okay, so not really (hello, Whitesnake!) But it makes sense in this GLEE realm we live in – it is GLEE, after all (and to some extent, THE SOPRANOS), that is to “blame” for their resurrection. Bizarre as it might appear to be, it not only works, CLEM SNIDE’S JOURNEY is awe-inspiring. This gorgeous EP provides a case-by-case testimony that, under all the histrionic vocal sonics and musical bombast, perhaps Steve Perry and company were tunesmiths of the highest caliber.  And they prove it all under 30 minutes. Hey, I never doubted Eef for a minute. Okay, for a minute. Or two.

You can keep Ne-Yo. You can have Usher and Trey Songz. And for all I care, you can throw Chris Brown in the garbage deposit he no doubt bathes in (I wouldn’t wish him on my enemies.) When I want to hear valid R&B, I throw on Anthony Hamilton. That voice, a hot-and-bothered potion of sex-god masculinity and romantic vulnerability, has never been creamier than on his exemplary latest, BACK TO LOVE, with a voice still as rich as marshmallows dipped in honey. Far and away, this is the best Soul release of this year. And last. Hell, probably next.

Miranda Lambert didn’t need the Pistol Annies. As the greatest country artist to emerge from any reality-based TV show (she came in as second runner up on the now-defunct NASHVILLE STAR), she’s released four albums of dynamite, and one certified country classic (her second release, 2007s CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND) and has become a megastar. But with HELL ON HEELS, Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley combine their collective talents to form a semi-supergroup, with an emphasis on luxurious and taut harmonies with an emphasis on smart lyricism.

Of course Mary Black’s STORIES FROM THE STEEPLES is magical – that’s par for the course. But how is it that her voice is actually richer than it was when I first fell in total love with her back in 1985? Is it wisdom with age? Perhaps. But it’s also an artist with a new appreciation of her art. After six long years away, I’m infatuated once again by the stories she embodies and delighted to revel in her sumptuousness. Welcome back, Mary.

Sadly, Poly Styrene’s solo album, GENERATION INDIGO, was released a day after her death back on April 25th, nearly three decades after her only other solo debut TRANSLUCENCE, and we suddenly realize what we have when it’s no longer here. Dosed in dub-step, reggae, lite-punk, dance-pop, synth-rock, her vocals tinge between effusive and determined (the album was recorded before her breast cancer was diagnosed), coalescing with her political leanings, her naive musings, and undaunted humanity.

Perhaps too ambitious, Fucked Up’s DAVID COMES TO LIFE (David being David Eliade, the “quasi-full time manager/promoter” of the band, and also their inspiration. Sweet.) goes beyond mere punk opera or concept album. While their fan base is hard at work, I’m sure, at  making a concrete correlation between David-as-man man and David-as-concept-album, what matters to the Fucked Up novice (read: me)  is the stunning benchmark of striking, melodic steadfastness of lead singer Damian Abraham with the dense, layered, and also beautiful songcraft.  Because, let’s face it, without the harmonious overflow, Abraham would be indistinguishable from many a hardcore howler.  Though, what a howler he is.

I won’t be a revisionist – I’ve had fun mocking Lady Gaga at every whim over the years, and while my admiration grew from jovial disdain to admiration back in 2010 (I wrote about it earlier this year), musically I still wasn’t satisfied. Until BORN THIS WAY. I’m happy that the pre-proclaimed promise of the “Greatest album of this decade!” (oh, Stephanie…) wasn’t even close. What it was was – and is – an anthology of rousing mini-pop operas – fast, furious, funny, heartfelt – from a colossally famous performance artist devoted not only to humanitarian causes and equality, but adjoins that uber stardom, humility and earthiness with a heretofore unseen allegiance to her fans (proving she’s the antithesis of the artist she’s often compared to, Madonna). That the songcraft is finally top tier is merely icing. Plus, it contains the best  HONKY CHATEAU B-side (“You And I”) that Elton John never wrote.

The tales on Fountain Of Wayne’s SKY FULL OF HOLES aren’t necessarily archetypal – whether the one about the father who escapes his routine life, and racing his own mortality, by imagining himself an action hero, or the fallen soldier saying goodbye to his love from beyond the grave, or two childhood friends who fail again and again at business adventures, or a guy writing his gal a road song even though he doesn’t sound like Steve Perry. But they are deeply resonant. “Stacey’s Mom” wasn’t a one-shot, folks – they’ve got nothing to prove, two excellent albums later.

Duncan Sheik morphed from 1990’s one-hit-wonder (the ubiquitous “Barely Breathing”) into a Tony/Grammy-winning Broadway darling (the groundbreaking SPRING AWAKENING), but with COVER 80s, Sheik personalizes his synth-pop 45rpm collection to deliver a strangely alluring and unlikely intriguing experience. Some monster hits (e.g. Thompson Twins’ “Hold Me Now”, Tears For Fears’ “Shout”), some obscure enough (The Blue Nile’s “Stay”, Japan’s “Gentlemen Take Poloroids”), he renders these tracks not as unrecognizable (too often the bane of covers) but strips them sparingly and imbues many with a peculiar dichotomy of breezy gloom, almost a sweet darkness, sometimes altering their distinct melodies to showcase that at the core of the heavily polished, synthesized exteriors of the superficially upbeat ditties often lie lyrics that belie such arrangements. None of this isn’t to imply that COVERS 80’s is a dank experience – it’s not – it’s a starkly lovely summation from a long-underrated artist.  Helping out with vocal flourishes are Holly Brook (AKA Skylar Gray) and Rachael Yamagata, who add to the ethereality as a whole.

There were so many other tasty treats my ears feasted on this year, any one of which I could have written in fuller detail in lieu of any of the above. Some examples: Brad Paisley’s THIS IS COUNTRY MUSIC is the follow-up to his masterpiece, AMERICAN SATURDAY NIGHT and “suffers” the same “problem” as the aforementioned Raphael Saadiq – you can’t always repeat a magnum opus. And Paisley, like Saadiq, doesn’t even care to try, which doesn’t discount the man’s talent for hooks and a new-traditionalist voice for the ages; Fleet Foxes HELPLESSNESS BLUES procures the title as angelic folk rock anti-heroes and all the iridescent harmonious beauty that entails – be forewarned, though – the text nearly promises to weigh it (way) down; Chris Cornell’s live/acoustic SONGBOOK proves that, besides being my first Rock N Roll love/crush, he remains one of the great singers of the Rock N Roll era, a voice that can not be denied, an underrated force of nature parallelled by few; in a succession of great releases since her late 90s comeback, Marianne Faithfull’s HORSES AND HIGH HEELS, demonstrates the wondrous actress behind the songs – always immersing herself within the lyrics, embodying the soul of each; Garland Jeffreys THE KING OF IN BETWEEN,  a great comeback where he exhibits, miraculously at 67, the best album of his long, criminally overlooked career; Tom Waits’ BAD AS ME doesn’t coast on his métier but rather embellishes an already artistic resurrection with his most rocking – and confident – set of  tunes since signing to Anti- over a decade ago; and who would’ve thought that, at 70, Paul Simon, would gift us with SO BEAUTIFUL OR SO WHAT his most contemplative and important work since GRACELAND? The star of the show on The Civil Wars’ BARTON HOLLOW is the intricate delicacy of John Paul White and Joy Williams’ harmonies, never flourishing the personal lyrics unnecessarily with overt twang or pomposity. It’ll leave you breathless.

And an honorable mention has to go to the following, which I’m sure will illicit snickers, laughs and derision. Bring it on, because how serious (or not) you take William Shatner’s SEEKING MAJOR TOM is how serious (or not) you take William Shatner. And I take him as serious (or not) as any Beat Poet from the 60s of Def Poetry Jam of recent times. His spoken word performance art has gathered a cult following since his TRANSFORMED MAN was unearthed thanks to the great/awful GOLDEN THROATS series back in the early 90s, and further into the hipster hierarchy thanks to Ben Folds, who recorded an album with him called HAS BEEN almost a decade ago. SEEKING MAJOR TOM, is indeed bloated by its own excesses – at twenty tracks, it could benefit a trimming (e.g. cutting the inexcusably awful “Iron Man” and out-of-place campy “Bohemian Rhapsody”, which almost reduces Shatner’s objective to a too-easy farce). And remaking his own remake of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” (the genesis of Shatner’s cultism) as low-key lament, reclining his own original blustering approach, negates (perhaps intentionally) that cult. But by the time Sheryl Crow’s haunting cover of K.I.A.’s “Mrs. Major Tom” midway, which imbues David Bowie’s fictional title character with an unexpected humanity and stops you in your emotional tracks, you’re not only rooting for his safe return, you’re doing so with a tear in your eye and cheer a silent cheer when he finally makes it home.

What do Bon Iver, David Cook, Owl City and Limp Bizkit have in common? They’re not on this list. There on that  other one I’ll write this week (or next). You know, the Pretty Shitty list, AKA, the “Worst”. I’ll be posting it in the coming days or so. If I feel up to task revisiting the horrors.

Music Box: Born THAT Way

*****

I’ve been known – much to the chagrin of many of my Little Monster friends – to handily and mercilessly knock Lady Gaga at every whim. Perusing the website Towleroad, for example (a website whose posts I often comment on), I’ve come across countless times my exaggerated disgust for her machinations resulted in comments curious of her longevity.  Well, something funny happened during the course of 2010. No, my opinion of her music wasn’t altered much, but my respect for Lady Gaga – as a woman and public figure – took a turn. And, believe it or not, I have Oprah Winfrey to thank for that.

Previously avoiding all print/online/TV things Gaga (I mean, after all, there was nothing this attention whore could possibly invoke that would negate my pungent aversion), I admittedly watched with prejudiced animosity. What happened was something I didn’t expect.  Here was arguably the most popular entertainer on earth – the most talked about, the most controversial, simultaneously the most maligned and worshiped since the heyday of Madonna’s long-dissipated relevance, and there didn’t seem to be a haughty bone in her body. Rarely have I witnessed such humility, such earthiness (I know!), such devotion to fans from a pop star of Gaga’s uber-popularity.  For all  the comparison hubbub, here was the antithesis of Madonna.

It was almost epiphanic. Was I allowing my distaste for her glaring attention-seeking shenanigans (and ersatz first few singles) to miss the abutment of performance art and commerce, from a tough New York cookie with a heart of gold? Sure, such combinations aren’t that new. Madonna – minus the heart of gold, natch – explored the art/commerce agenda brilliantly since her “Like A Virgin” performance at the VMAs over two decades ago (most unsuccessfully – in idea and ideal, anyway – during her EROTICA/SEX/BODY OF EVIDENCE debacle). Purely as an entity, I wanna hang out in the East Village with Gaga, smoke some pot, and throw back a few whiskey sours. And I’ve never smoked pot and loathe whiskey. The Power Of Gaga! (Of course, such brazen tangibility just might be a small ingredient in Gaga’s world domination brew…)

One should always let the music speak for itself, of course, and not be deterred one way or the other from outside sources, so I thought, in light of my ‘a-ha!’ Oprah/Gaga moment, that it was my duty to spelunk her debut with a different, less prejudiced mindset.

*Sigh*

THE FAME still felt sonically antiquated, overstuffed; a dance neophyte who had yet to pass the audition. True, THE FAME MONSTER (a sorta addendum to THE FAME, and actually released around the world as a ‘deluxe’ edition) proved an infinitely hookier, more psycho-sexualized transgression. That it includes a song for the ages, “Bad Romance” didn’t hurt. But I just couldn’t get over the feeling that I was being (musically, anyway) conned.

Remember, Miss Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta wasn’t born Lady Gaga. She started her career as another whiny piano-playing singer/songwriter (never had enough of those in the late 90s early aughts, huh?) playing the night club circuit who, when she got nowhere fast because she sounded like every other angsty girl-with-a-piano, decided to write chintzy dance pop songs we’ve heard a thousand times before, only juxtaposing her aesthete was a concoction of cult figures,  myriads and icons alike. There was more than a mere dash of Dale Bozzio, more than a smidgen of Grace Jones, more than a measly modicum of Leigh Bowery. All gelled together, with a heaping dose of the Material Girl thrown in, she sought to conquer what she most desired – fame – and became victor.

Yeah, yeah, I know – since time immemorial, Rock ‘N Roll’s been populated with “borrowed” musicality. You can hear the history of Muddy Waters in Led Zeppelin’s whole catalogue; you can feel the ectoplasm of early archetypes like Waters, Bo Diddly, Little Richards, etc.  throughout the Rolling Stones’ classic canon.  The sounds of gay, urban, black 70s era R&B and disco saturates the bloodline of Madonna’s 20+ year chartulary. There are shades of music history’s past in every present.

But there’s a fine line between “shades of” and “blatant”.  “Born This Way” is such an elaborate – maybe intentional? – “Express Yourself” sound-alike that I half expect Gaga to move to England and acquire a phony, uncomfortable English accent! Forget melody (too obvious) – even the chord progression is too close for comfort. And, to my ears, there are more that a few tints of TLCs “Waterfalls” in the verse cadence. When, on release day,  I posted on Facebook (and on YouTube) that perhaps it should be renamed “Express Waterfalls”, Gaga’s army went on the attack. That I wasn’t the only one who heard echoes of T-Boz, Chili and Left Eye was little consolation…though I do thank you, YouTube stranger, for this:

Even though he’s using the wrong section of “EY” (it should be the bridge), am I wrong to think Madonna and TLC should reap in royalties?

These accusations aren’t new to Gaga, of course. It was almost a year ago that Gaga faced similar accusations when her controversial video and single for “Alejandro” was released. The song’s/video’s overt similarities (in sound) to Ace of Bace’s “Don’t Turn Around” and (in vision) Madonna (again) were palpable and evident and the blogosphere couldn’t get enough. Every icon has his/her “haters”, true. Gaga’s haters hated, and her  minions steadfastly stood by their queen.

One might surmise, not incorrectly, that the “Born This Way” (or “Express Yourself”, for that matter) theme of self-empowerment isn’t exclusive to the LGBT community. Absolutely. But given Gaga’s historical gay alignment, one can’t argue that “gay rights” is at the core – and the genesis – of its central theme (and none of these latest attacks/accusations negates its Hi-NRG exuberance or its surefire gay anthem aesthetics; the clubs will be thud-thud-thudding this along for months to come, straight into and beyond this summer’s gay pride festivities). Its imminent status in the gay rights movement is almost a given.

Sample lyrics:

Don’t be a drag, just be a queen
Whether you’re broke or evergreen
You’re black, white, beige, chola descent
You’re Lebanese, you’re orient
Whether life’s disabilities
Left you outcast, bullied, or teased
Rejoice and love yourself today
‘Cause baby you were born this way

No matter gay, straight, or bi,
Lesbian, transgendered life
I’m on the right track baby
I was born to survive
No matter black, white or beige
Chola or orient made
I’m on the right track baby
I was born to be brave

Hey, no one’s ever accused Gaga of a poetic hierarchy, as these lyrics  hammer-point home. But, while her choice of vernacular and syntax might be confounding (her use of the word “orient” is causing some controversy), rarely – probably never – in the history of pop music has someone of her mega-status been so forthright, so adamant, so positive, so universal in a pro-gay (read: human) rights stance.

I won’t proclaim absolute conversion just yet (and as a 45 year old, it would be – or should be – an embarrassment to call myself a “little monster”), but as homogeneous guilty pleasure, it’s hook-laden and damned catchy. More importantly, though, if “Born This Way” influences one disillusioned youngster – downtrodden by the darkest forces and most vile animosity from so-called humanity, terrified of the world that refuses to accept their innateness – if it breaks free the shackles of suicide as a pain-ending finale – then let it ring from the mountain tops and across the globe.

If ever a musical were created on the concept of Dan Savage’s important and groundbreaking It Gets Better project, “Born This Way” should not only be it’s theme song, but it’s mantra.

MTV VMyAwn…

*****

I watch music videos for a living. While that’s generalizing and simplifying the exact context of my work, it’s the bottom line. So while I can dispute the winners of last night’s MTV Video Music Awards with a flair of knowledge, it’s best to understand that to argue is a moot point. The “best” videos are rarely the winners, and even rarer, ever nominated.  So, we take what it is at face value (as with most awards shows) and pretend we’re content with what has become the ‘norm’.

The show itself was a promise of a better-than-usual affair. I haven’t watched a full VMA in years – precisely because I’m often loath to succumb to its pop-culturism.  Chelsea Handler as hostess (the first female host since Roseanne Barr helmed the 1994 cheese-apalooza) was a sign that perhaps MTV has finally stopped taking itself seriously. Handler is part of the pop culture machine, but more as an agitator…skewering the very machination she’s a part of with an undeniable fervor and abandon. While comediennes like Kathy Griffin relish dishing on the D-List society we dumb-downed Americans have sadly embraced wholeheartedly (e.g. the Kate Gosselin’s of the world, the Khardasian’s, the Britney’s, the Lohan’s, etc…), her innate adoration of those targets is palpable.  Handler seemingly genuinely and deliciously disdains. So, when she risked her very health by dipping into the Jacuzzi with the sub-humanoid denizens of the Jersey Shore cast at one point mid-way through the show, it was simultaneously to partake in the absurdity of their pop culture ascension and to obliterate it with an intelligent irony those morons could never understand.

The aforementioned better show promise barely materialized. While Eminem’s opening medley of “Not Afraid”/”Love The Way You Lied” was a stunner (even with “surprise guest” Rihanna’s atonal droning on the latter), he skipped the rest of the ceremony to fly back to the East Coast for his concert with Jay-Z, hence unable to accept the few awards he won.  And why saddle Lady Gaga as the most nominated performer in VMA history only to have her sit out the performances?  She’s an attention whore, we get it, but her outrageous shock-frock’s are a tired cliché and it’s been played out ad nauseum for nearly two years running already, so her nightmare runway sashays with every Moon Man she collected doesn’t really count (I should add that, while no fan of Gaga’s retro-90’s Club MTV musical leanings, her steadfast stance and intestinal fortitude on basic equal rights is incontestable. By showing up with 4 American soldiers – heroes – recently discharged under our governments heinous Don’t Ask Don’t Tell as her ‘dates’, she’s not only educating the youth masses of the injustices within our flawed system, but the hypocrisy of President Obama’s confounded positions on said rights).

The performers of the night were hit or miss (mostly miss). We all learned back in 1992 that WHITE MEN CAN’T JUMP, but who knew that white boys also couldn’t sing!? Or dance? Or best/worst of all, even lip-synch? So, salutations, Justin Bieber, and thanks – your poorly mimed “Baby”/“Somebody To Love” was unintentionally comical enough, but losing your drumstick during that solo was the cherry on top! Meanwhile, Bieber’s sensei Usher’s proclivity toward a Michael Jackson hierarchy is taxing – he’s too far into his own career for the incessant terpsichorean mimicry.  His (also, frustratingly, lip-synched) medley of his DJ Got Us Falling In Love”/“OMG”, while visually all razzle, was far from a dazzle, despite it’s TRON-meets-KILL BILL milieux.

Florence and the Machine - An Ethereal "Dog Days Are Over"

While I’m betting that hipsters the blogosphere over were rejoicing after Florence + the Machine’s FELLINI SATYRICON-like performance of her Vid Of The Year nominee “Dog Days Are Over”, it was dynamic and ethereal – the evening’s most vivid recital.  The Drake/Mary J Blige/Swizz Beatz Rat Pack-inspired take on Drake’s “Fancy” was fanciful in ideal, not necessarily in execution – though Mary’s perfect imperfections are always a joy to behold…even though she (finally) learned how to sing a few years ago, it’s that rampant almost-punk aesthetic that always trickles in which takes the non-believers like me to church.

Instantaneously, I was impressed that MTV and TLC agreed on a cross-channel agreement until I realized that, no, it was not the lost member of LITTLE PEOPLE, BIG WORLDs Roloff family in Little Richard drag tinkling at the ivories, but R&B sensation Bruno Mars, which begat Atlanta’s latest superstar B.O.B.’s “Nothin’ On You”, before segueing into “Airplanes” with Haley Williams of Paramore. We learned earlier that Williams and B.O.B. never met before the VMA rehearsal (technology allowed their recorded duet to happen), and it couldn’t have been more apparent. Williams was Paramore-less during their Only Exception”. Linkin Park headache-inducing attempt to stop their spiraling descent into irrelevancy with “Catalyst” was, well, loud and, let’s face it, ludicrous – there’s never a cliche these nimrod’s don’t like to hold tightly.

But lest anyone foolishly believe otherwise, the 2010 VMAs leant no creed to anything as inconsequential as, say, the winners (it never is, though Gaga took home 8 Moon Men), nor even about the fashion which, due to the frivolous insignificance of the award itself, is usually this show’s main metier.

Nope – nothing else meant anything – not on this day – the 1st anniversary of Taylorgate!!! A year ago, West morphed from pompous talented blowhard to pompous talented douchebag blowhard in an instant swoop – by bum-rushing the stage (inebriated, no less) as Swift accepted her Best Female Video Moon Man and proclaiming (correctly, I might add, at least historically) that Beyoncé was robbed of the statue.

West’s only ‘crime’ was classless, sure, but in the realm of MTV, his statement was hardly erroneous. Perhaps “Single Ladies” wasn’t “…one of the greatest videos of all time, of all TIME!”, as he stupidly clamored, but it certainly is one of the medium’s all-time greatest hits – it remains its own zeitgeist even almost two years later – probably unarguably the most parodied – mimicked, homaged, revered – in this YouTube age. And MTV, as noted earlier, is almost always about the “most popular”, so its loss to Swift’s teenage ramblings was a head-scratcher at the very least.

Meanwhile, West’s actions jettisoned Swift into stratospheric new heights. Already a crossover country superstar, she became the poor rich little white girl attacked by the drunk, scary black man – America went bonkers and suddenly Swift became the most famous victim in the country and became a megastar, a household name.

Flash-forward a year – and incalculable West apologies – later, and the controversy’s come full circle. All eyes, ears and even the noses of the gossip hounds, the blogosphere, the press and viewers, were simultaneously glued to MTV – the world seemingly waited with an inflated inhalation.

Swift’s public statement wasn’t nearly as provocative as it could have been; in lieu of an incendiary verbal scolding, “Innocent” approached the topic more with a condescending finger-pointing of a mother reprimanding her child with lessons-to-be-learned affirmations:

It’s alright, just wait and see, your string of lights are still bright to me
Oh, who you are is not what you’ve been
You’re still an innocent
It’s okay, life is a tough crowd
32 and still growing up now
Who you are is not what you did
You’re still an innocent

Solipsism was always West’s best friend so “Runaway” seeped of his favorite subject of course, but despite the heralded chorus, independent of the controversy you’d never know that there was a controversy to begin with:

Let’s have a toast for the douchebags, let’s have a toast for the assholes
Let’s have a toast for the scumbags, every one of them that I know
Let’s have a toast for the jerk-offs, that never take work off
Baby I got a plan, runaway as fast as you can…

But delving further, he, uh, “sings”:

Used to find pictures in my e-mail
I sent this bitch a picture of my dick (he censored himself and sang “HEY”)
I don’t know what it is with females
But I’m not too good at that shit (see above)
See I could have me a good girl
And still be addicted to hood rats
And I just blame everything on you
At least you know that’s what I’m good at…

You couldn’t find an insinuation to Kanye/Taylorgate with a fine-toothed comb, but that won’t stop the masses from trying.  Remember, again, West didn’t hobble on stage and pull a Chris Brown on Swift last year – merely stated his belief in an ugly manner. He offered no musical apologies, nor did he owe one (to anyone other than Swift).  What MTV did was build the controversy to a fever pitch (they announced his “comeback” throughout the program) and, hoping West would sequel Swift’s earlier part 1, he instead displays an action that is perfectly aligned with his history – he makes it all about him  Such is the genius of Kanye.

That the much-anticipated water cooler redemption was as arid as dry ice (spoken in brief, almost passing tones this day after) it was a lost moment for a possible pop culture landmark.

So, instead of elongating the already prolonged feud, it ended with last night’s anti-climax.

Besides, who would’ve thought that the topic of conversation today would be this:

Let it suffice to say that Lady Gaga is not the new white meat.