Capsule reviews of things I’ve read, seen, and heard

Some things I’ve indulged in recently:

Hell’s Kitchen
There was a time when I swore…SWORE…that I’d never follow a reality TV show. I used to turn my nose at the Hell’s Kitchen promos for the first three seasons they ran on FOX. Then I caught a rerun on cable. Then I caught another. Then I DVR’d all of Season One. Then Season Two. I stayed home all last weekend to watch the marathon of Season Three to prepare for Season Four which began last night. Best show ever, you donkey.

“World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War” by Max Brooks
The zombies damn near brought the world to an end, and in this book, the survivors share their stories of fear, horror, human frailty, and global consequences. An immensely creative and chilling book.

REM “Accelerate”
Every time REM puts out a new album, critics all seem to tacitly agree to “go gentle” on the band. Few are the brave souls to say that REM has been average since 1990, and flat-out shitty since 1997. The last REM album I liked was “Monster” in ’93. The last one I truly loved was “Document” in ’87. I’ve wanted to love them over the past ten years, but there was nothing to love (“Up” is just a “Throw” away from accurate). 

Every review of the new album that I’d read, from Spin to Blender, Esquire to Entertainment Weekly, positively raved about REM’s “return to form.” Naturally, I assumed that the reviewers had again conspired to be nice to the heritage band, much in the same way they insisted that U2’s “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb” was worth buying (“Vertigo” is a great song, but that’s all I’m giving you on that one). 

Still, “teenage James,” the guy who grew up on “Fables of the Reconstruction” and “Murmur” wanted the album to not suck. So much so, I bought it from iTunes yesterday. 

Is it as good as everyone says? Of course not. It is, however, better than everything since “Out of Time.” It’s been 20 years since they’ve packed an album with a top-heavy, rock-to-downtempo song ratio. All the things I love about REM–Peter Buck’s guitar, Mike Mills’ backup vocals, Michael Stipe’s voice–are stronger than we’ve heard in some time, each element insisting that you forgive their recent artistic shortcomings. It’s a play that for the most part works. The songs on the album aren’t worthy of being placed alongside “classic” REM, but they’re strong enough to help get rid of that awful taste in my mouth that the band’s left me with for the past decade-plus.

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