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|June 4- June 10, 2009
Elvis Costello, Secret, Profane and Sugarcane (Hear Music)
by Dan DeLuca
Elvis Costello’s third collaboration with T-Bone Burnett splits the difference between his first two: It’s better than 1989’s all-over-the-place Spike, but not as good as 1986’s sharply focused King of America. It’s a set of ballads with subtle acoustic country and bluegrass backing, not quite so atmospheric as Burnett’s most recent noteworthy production, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ Raising Sand.
The cable talk-show host is never at a loss for words or new songs, but here he also reinterprets tunes previously targeted for other projects. The standout, and one welcome up-tempo cut, “Hidden Shame,” for instance, originally was written for Johnny Cash and also was released as a demo version on Costello’s 2001 album All This Useless Beauty.
Emmylou Harris sings harmony on the quite lovely fiddle-fired “The Crooked Line,” co-written by Burnett, and “I Felt the Chill” is a choked and touching lament co-written with Loretta Lynn that’s a comeback, of sorts, to Lynn’s “When the Tingle Becomes A Chill.” Too many mid-tempo tunes lined up back-to-back, but otherwise a solid addition to the Costello oeuvre.
Art Brut, Art Brut vs. Satan (Downtown)
by A.D. Amorosi
You have to love any band that cops influence from the Fall, and even takes its name from French painter Jean Debuffet’s outsider aesthetic. In his wonky, witty work, singer/lyricist Eddie Argos inherits the mantle of clever punk held by Johnny Lydon, Ian Dury and Damon Albarn, preserving the best qualities of each.
Yet fans of Art Brut’s first hit — the bluntly caustic “Formed a Band” — are in for an odd treat. With Frank Black of the Pixies behind the board, the sound of Satan is raw and powerful, as if the mix were pushed into the red without losing clarity.
It’s a musical and lyrical thrill ride, from the punch of “What a Rush” to the poignancy of “Am I Normal?” But don’t let that touching moment fool you. Argos is a caustic everyman, a goofball extraordinaire. “Slap Dash for No Cash” makes fun of Eno’s belabored sonic endeavors, and an equally contagious “Mysterious Bruises” winks at the Bobby Fuller Four with the lyric “I fought the floor and the floor won.” And who but Argos can sing a love song to DC Comics and chocolate milkshakes and make it sad and sarcastic?
The Sounds, Crossing the Rubicon (Amioki/Original Signal)
by Doug Wallen
Once hailed as Sweden’s answer to Blondie but actually not far removed from Canada’s Metric, the Sounds tackle this third album as if being timed, visibly itching to launch into every neon-bright chorus. Maja Ivarsson’s heavily treated vocals combine with ’80s-tinged guitars and synths for big, punchy pop that doesn’t bother being particularly original. Yet the first half of the album is spoiled by Ivarsson’s smug delivery and condescending lyrics. The tacky “My Lover” mars its fluttering electronics with woefully willful singing, and “Beatbox” takes a lame stab at replicating Blondie’s “Rapture.” The second half, thankfully, is less in-your-face and overproduced, free of self-conscious kiss-offs and concessions to radio. The result is an album that teeters uncomfortably between smarmy and sweet, bloated and efficient.
Eeels, Hombre Lobo (Vagrant)
by Steve Klinge
I am an hombre lobo,” Mark Oliver Everett howls on “Tremendous Dynamite.” That he steals the cadence of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Back Door Man” is just one example of the sly wit typical of Eels albums. He’s also alluding to one of his own songs, “Dog Faced Boy” from 2001’s Souljacker, and Hombre Lobo is in part the story of the dog boy turned wolfman. It’s subtitled “12 Songs of Desire,” and desire is a scary thing in Lobo’s world, simmering with violence both physical and emotional.
Eels’ eighth leans on heavy blues. For instance, “Fresh Blood” cribs from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You.” But not exclusively: seemingly sincere ballads (“All The Beautiful Things,” “Ordinary Man”) get juxtaposed with unhinged old-school rockers such as “Lilac Breeze,” which borrows from Elvis Costello’s “Mystery Dance.” Lobo is typical eclectic Eels, and it’s worthy of desire.
Sony prepares an army of Playstation evangelists
by Brian Crecente
Earlier this year Sony began quietly readying an army of evangelists to take to the front lines of the escalating console wars.
The Experience Playstation Now program had a “beta test” of sorts earlier this month, with Sony employees well-versed in the ins and outs of the Playstation Portable and Playstation 3 setting up temporary shop in a select number of Best Buys across the country.
The idea for the program is fairly simple: Get the Playstation 3, the Playstation Portable, into peoples’ hands, explain all of the things they can do, and people will buy them.
“This allows real, live passionate people to reach out to consumers,” said Kim Nguyen, marketing manager for the Playstation 3 and Playstation 2. “They will answer some basic questions and tell people things about the Playstation 3 they may not know.”
The merchandising representatives will tell people about the PS3’s games, but also answer questions about the built-in Blu-ray player, about the hard drive, about going online with the console.
“This is the sort of dialog we want to have with our consumers,” Nguyen said. “The root of this program is education. We know people see the Playstation 3 as a very expensive machine. In order for them to appreciate the value of the Playstation 3 they need to see all of the benefits.”
While both Microsoft and Nintendo have tried their hand at different forms of marketing, this is the first time, Nguyen believes, that a console maker has created a program to talk directly to consumers on such a wide scale.
Sony has experimented with other forms of advertising as well, from the traditional to the viral, and all three console makers also have kiosks in stores across the country where potential customers can check out their consoles and the games available on them.
But Nguyen said that Sony’s kiosks, located in 15,000 stores nationwide, aren’t as personal as this new initiative.
“Kiosks are very passive,” she said. “No one is engaged with you, there is no dialogue, no questions and answers.”
Nguyen said the pilot program for the Experience Playstation Now was held in a handful of Best Buys across the country on a Sunday afternoon.
“We wanted to get out into the market and get our feet wet,” she said. “We tested it out in a few stores and are getting feedback. Now we’re going to regroup and discuss how it went before we rollout the program for the rest of the year at more retailers.”
The marketing team behind the program checked in with the Best Buy locations to see if there was an increase in Playstation-related sales and how customers responded to the program.
“The initial feedback has been way over expectations,” she said.
The next step will be to start rolling it out at other retailers and in other locations, something Sony plans to do very methodically.
“We do plan to grow this program slowly,” Nguyen said. “We have to be cautious.”
Jesse Divnich, director of analyst services for EEDAR, thinks the idea is a gamble.
“In our industry we don’t really see much grassroots marketing,” he said. “That has been common with political campaigns or for sampling food in stores, but not in gaming.
“It’s going to be tough to predict its success. It’s a new venture that comes with a hefty cost.”
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