If you just couldn’t get enough of the schmaltzy performances on the "American Idol" TV show, now you can buy a compilation CD of American Idol: Greatest Moments from RCA. Featuring milquetoast retreads of songs by Stevie Wonder, Carole King, Lionel Ritchie, Burt Bachrach and more, sung by Idol winner Kelly Clarkson (she gets four songs here), Justin Guarini, Nikki McKibbin, Ryan Star and more, a listen to this uninspiring disc made me thankful I never saw the series (though I did see Ryan Star recently in an Aurelios…but that’s another story).
Warren Zevon broke through to the masses in the late ‘70s with the quirky hit "Werewolves of London," but his catalogue of cynical, sardonic character portrait songs spans the ‘70s through this year. The wry, acerbic singer has written hits for Linda Ronstadt, worked with Jackson Browne and R.E.M. and has been a frequent band leader for David Letterman (he’ll appear on Letterman again on Oct. 30). Over the summer, Zevon was diagnosed with incurable lung cancer, and he responded in his usual deadpan humor, telling the press, "I'm okay with it, but it'll be a drag if I don't make it till the next James Bond movie comes out." Zevon is now working on his last album in his home studio, and in the interim, Rhino Records and Elektra have released a new collection of his work; Genius: The Best of Warren Zevon. The single-CD set includes 22 tracks, most of which were also collected on his 1996 two-CD box set I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead. Genius is a great distillation of essential Zevon, from the early work of "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me," "Carmelita," "Werewolves of London," "Excitable Boy," and "A Certain Girl" through his later work "Detox Mansion," "Splendid Isolation," Mr. Bad Example" and "Raspberry Beret," recorded with members of R.E.M. as the Hindu Love Gods. It also includes tracks from his most recent discs.
Nobody could pack as many loud and fast songs onto an album than The Ramones, and Sire/Rhino Records has just issued another greatest hits set from the 1-2-3-go punk band. Loud, Fast Ramones: Their Toughest Hits slims down the best of their 58-song 1999 two-CD box set Hey Ho Let’s Go! into a single 30-song CD that includes "Blitzkrieg Bop," "Sheena is a Punk Rocker," "Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment," "Rockaway Beach," "Teenage Lobotomy, ""I Wanna Be Sedated," "Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio," and their signature hit "Rock ‘n’ Roll High School." The set also includes a separate bonus live disc with eight songs recorded in 1985.
Tom Petty | Heartbreakers
The Last DJ
Tom Petty’s got an axe to grind with the corporatization of the music business, and he’s not shy about swinging it on his latest disc.
Opening with "The Last DJ," a classic Petty rocker that vents about the loss of personal choice and power for radio DJs, he goes on to lament the rock stars who got into the business with something to say but who eventually get ground down like slaves in the system in "Money Becomes King" and skewers fatcat executives in "Joe," a first-person character portrait of a music company CEO whose mantra is "they get to be famous/I get to be rich."
These are biting, strong tracks; one of the best lines on the album comes in "Money Becomes King" when Petty complains that the music of a man who used to be an inspiration had been bought and deflated by corporate sponsorship: "there was no use in pretending/no magic left to hear/all the music gave me/was a craving for lite beer."
The Last DJ is not all about the failings of the music business. In "Blue Sunday," he moves in a Bob Dylan/Counting Crows direction with twangy country guitars and a character study of a hitchhiker. And "You and Me," is a refreshing piano and guitar ballad promising "wherever that wind might blow/wherever that river rolls/you know I will go with you."
In "The Man Who Loves Women," he manufactures a goofball tin pan alley track that wouldn’t have been out of place on a latter-day Beatles album as a Ringo-sung bit of levity about a man who falls in love with a different girl every night.
His Dylan side comes out again in the drawl of "Have Love Will Travel," and another Beatles nod ends the album – "Can’t Stop the Sun" opens with a guitar strum along the same lines as "Julia."
While there are a couple duds here – the funky strut of "When a Kid Goes Bad" gets old before it ends and "Lost Children" retreads tired ‘70s wah-wah rock vibes (for a few seconds, he sounds like he’s channeling Kansas) – for the most part, Petty’s pen is sharp and vital, if his vocals occasionally get a bit shrill. The Last DJ is a strong, varied offering, with plenty for fans to love (and record executives to hate).