Monday, January 26, 2009

Album Review: Bruce Springsteen - Working on A Dream

Today brings the release of Working on a Dream, the second album by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band in a little over a year. This comes days before their appearance playing the halftime show at next Sunday's Super Bowl, and a week after Bruce spent several days in Washington D.C playing various inauguration parties and winning a Golden Globe for his musical contribution to the movie The Wrestler (that song is on the album as a final bonus track). It's been a busy month for these guys. Is the album worth the effort?

I'd say so. NPR is still streaming the entire album at their music site. So go hear for yourself. Rolling Stone magazine gave the CD a coveted 5 star review. According to them it can't get any better. While I wouldn't go that far (RS would give 5 stars to Alvin and the Chipmunks if it reminded them of the "good ol days" of Rock N Roll), I agree that Working is Springsteen's most radio-friendly music since Born in the USA, and superior to last year's release Magic.

Following the recording of Magic Bruce and producer Brendan O' Brien had a few leftover songs that didn't quite make the final track list. Feeling inspired, Bruce immediately went back to the drawing board and continued songwriting. Demo tracks and a full recording session quickly followed.

The result is an album from a group of experienced musicians who sound as if they have found a re-energized passion for playing together. The album is full of fun, rocking, optimistic tracks; a direct contrast to Magic's dark look at war, failure, and decaying towns. Working has more in common with Magic's one positive track "Girls in their Summer Clothes." Actually, I am surprised this album was not released in the summer with its constant use of Beach Boys-like keyboards, horns, and backing vocals. In the meantime it can be used to fight the seasonal affective disorder that is sure to come once another 8 inches of snow comes to Cleveland tonight (Ugh!)

Yes, the band is planning a summer-long tour to accompany the album. Presently they have no Ohio dates scheduled. The closest Cleveland is getting right now is a Pittsburgh stop on May 19. I wouldn't be surprised if a Cleveland date is announced later given that they can easily sell out the Q, and their current tour dates end on May 23, leaving the whole summer wide open.

Since we now purchase music by the song and not the album, after the jump I will break down the album track by track, letting you know which one(s) I think you may want to skip. Then give it a listen and let me know what you think (or let me know what I SHOULD be listening to instead)

Outlaw Pete – An 8 minute opening song. A western-themed opus for fans of the bands old-school operatic tunes like "Jungleland." The guitar part during the chorus is reminiscent of that go-to movie trailer score from the 90s, which I found slightly distracting (I wanna say its Forrest Gump, but I think that's wrong. Anybody know what I'm talking about? Or am I the only crazy one?). A strong start

Lucky Day – One of the strongest songs on the album. Strong guitar-heavy pop song. Will make for a great hit single.

Working on a Dream – The title track that Bruce debuted at the Cleveland Obama rally last November. Jingly-jangly pop song. Lyrics are a little corny. A slight problem I have with this album: the music is great but the lyrics sometimes border on too cheesy. Seems like Springsteen doing his best Springsteen impression (A job I believe is already filled, thank you John Couger Mellencamp). Catchy whistles, horns, backup vocals.

Queen of the Supermarket – A Song about the Sun-Maid raisin girl (will someone write her a song, please!!). Really about a guy falling in love with the checkout lady. For fans of ‘Girls in their Summer Clothes’. More 60s style pop w/ backup singers. Good use of checkout beeping noise at the end.

What Love Can Do – Another guitar heavy song. Possibly one of my favorites on the album. Pounding drums. Guitars chugging along like a locomotive. Hard not to like.

This Life – Starts out like a Beach Boys song. Maybe a little too close to "Girls in Summer Clothes?" Second happy love song on album. Almost shocking how optimistic this album is at fist listen. One of the few major Clarence sax solos of album. Again, slightly cheesy lyrics, but grows on me by the end. Maybe cheesy lyrics aren't that bad.

Good Eye – A dirty blues break from all the pop. Gruff voice, harmonica. Seems a little out of place with the rest of the pop feel of the album. Seems like an improvised jam session in the middle of recording. I like it.

Tomorrow Never Knows – Acoustic love song. Finger pickin' and Slide guitar. Another winner.

Life Itself – The one song on the album I suggest you avoid. Sounds like it should have been on Magic instead. Fail. Not very catchy or interesting.

Kingdom of Days – Another string, heavy pop love song. Similar to "Supermarket’", maybe a little too similar musically. Another possible skip unless you like your Springsteen like this.

Surprise, Surprise – Another catchy, yet borderline too cheesy song about a surprise birthday party. I'm not saying its bad, it just seems strange sometimes coming from Springsteen. It might be more suited as a Barenaked Ladies song. “Let your love shine down?!!”

Last Carnival – A sequel to "Wild Billy’s Circus Story" from 1973's The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle. Acoustic solo song. Written as a tribute to E Street keyboard player Danny Federici who died last year. This was the last album he worked on. A low-key, touching tribute.

The Wrestler – The previously mentioned Golden Globe winning song and theme to movie with the same name. Tagged on as an extra track. Maybe the strongest song lyrically. I can't believe the song got snubbed by the Oscars when they had 2 nomination slots to fill!! They decided to fill only 3 of the 5 nomination slots instead of nominating this?!

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Erik Estrada Knows Nothing About Cleveland

Yes, that is a true fact. Anyone who took Ohio History should know that.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Adventures in Product Placement: 'Trust Me'

In a previous post I took a look at TNT's new drama "Trust Me," premiering this Monday night (1/26). This is the drama about two friends working in a fast-paced (fictional) ad agency Rothman, Greene & Mohr.

Although set in a fictional agency, the clients they take on will be very real. 'Trust me' will be writing actual products into their scripts, including products that are actual sponsors of the program. SEAMLESS PRODUCT INTEGRATION ACHIEVED (in theory)!!

One such sponsor is Unilever, which will be promoting their line of Dove hair care products. The product placement will go so far as to provide an on-screen cameo for a real-life Dove brand manager, as well as a Dove-sponsored online game where the user, playing as a Rothman creative director, will develop a campaign for Dove. That's so meta I feel I should be receiving a paycheck from someone just for playing the game.

Due to its setting, 'Trust Me' has the ability to integrate nearly any product into their surroundings: just make them a client. The first few episodes feature many different brands, including: Apple, Chris-Craft boats, Effen vodka, Green Giant, Hallmark, Kellogg’s cereal, Nike, Pillsbury, Potbelly Sandwich Works and Starbucks.

The executive producers of the show, who also happen to be former Madison Ave ad men, claim that the product integration is done because it gives the audience a better depth of knowledge of the show's environment. In other words, the audience will be able to form a stronger bond with the characters if they drink Starbucks coffee rather than a fictional Skybucks coffee. I see the point, but let's be honest, the product integration is done to ease the production costs of a show that is probably pretty costly for a TNT series, not to create a fully realized environment.

I have no idea if this will work or not. If the brands are honestly used to further define the agency's environment and only plays a minor supporting role in that sense, then we're cool. If, however, the brands end up driving the plot for each episode, then the audience may realize they are simply watching a glorified infomercial. Both the sponsors and the producers of the series should (and hopefully do) realize that.

I'll check the show out on Monday night, but for the stories, not the products. Will you?

In ‘Trust Me,’ a Fake Agency Really Promotes Read more!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A New Day in America, A New Website

Today was a historical day for many reasons: the swearing-in of President Barack Obama, the streaming of Bruce Springsteen's new album on, the eve of the new season of "Lost," and the re-launching of a new website,

At 12:01 PM Eastern the country welcomed their new presidential website. Not surprisingly, the theme of the site right now is "Change." One element the Obama administration hopes to change is transparency in communication, and using new media to achieve that.

Part of that plan is launching the blog. Today, in a post titled "Change is coming to," White House Director for New Media, Macon Phillips, lays out three important things the Obama administration hopes to achieve with their website:

  1. Better Communication - The site promises to provide timely, up-to-date information via e-mail alerts, RSS feeds, and a special "briefing room" section that will archive the presidents weekly addresses/podcasts, slideshows, executive orders, and nominations and appointments.

  2. Transparency - According to the site, "President Obama has committed to making his administration the most open and transparent in history." I'm slightly skeptical of this, but it's worth a shot. The site does provide detail on the president's agenda on nearly every type of policy position, as well as the previously mentioned orders, proclamations, and nominations.

  3. Participation - The administration hopes to use the Internet and new media to give a voice to anyone who wants. There is, of course, some restrictions. The blog isn't going to be installing the ability for comments any time soon, but they do plan on posting non-emergency legislation on the website for 5 days, allowing the public to view and make comments (through a specified comment form) before the President signs it,

I assume these elements of transparency on the Internet may change as the administration figures out what works and what does not, but this is a promising start. Throughout his campaign President Obama proved that he understood how to use new media for public relations and communications. It looks like his presidency is looking to continue that.

Corporations take note: If the most powerful man in the world believes it is important to communicate this way, what excuse do you have for not trying it?

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Get Out Your Seat and Jump Around

This morning one of the TVs at the gym was playing this: A lost treasure of a music video, which I had completely forgotten about. Watching it makes me exhausted. I should be doing this instead of going to the gym (although in this nasty Cleveland weather I would probably slip and fall).

Peter Wolf - Come As You Are (from Come As You Are)

They don't make music videos like that any more. ...
Or do they?

Goldfrapp - Happiness (from Seventh Tree) Read more!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Boozin' Barkley Booted from TMobile (Sorry Time Magazine)

The fallout from Charles Barkley's New Year's Eve DWI continues.

Barkley is already taking a "leave of absence" from his duties as a basketball commentator on TNT, and now comes the news that T-Mobile is dropping him from their popular Barkely/Dwayne Wade Fave 5 ads.

This must come as a huge blow not only to Barkley, but to Time magazine as well. Last month the magazine named the Barkley/Wade commercials as the best ads of 2008. Well, Time, I hoped you enjoyed them while they lasted.

Sir Charles, may I suggest adding a taxi service to your 5? Or at least a good lawyer?

What should T-Mobile do now? Continue the campaign with Wade and Larry Bird, perhaps? I'd want to add him to my 5 more than Barkley.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Angry-Gram: When you want to say 'I hate you' with a sandwich

First, did you all know that Burger King was called Hungry Jacks in Austrailia? I had no idea that has been going on all these years under my nose. What is the point of the name change, exactly? Was there already a Burger King down under?

Anyway, I'm a fan of Burger King's new brand identity as the weird, off-beat, humorous, and slightly edgy fast-food restaurant. Agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky have done good work creating strong television commercials and fun, interactive campaigns online. Burger King has become the master of viral fast-food campaigns and McDonalds is always trying to ketchup (HA HA HA HA HA!!!)

Last week BK received a decent amount of buzz for their Whopper Sacrifice campaign: sacrifice (delete) 10 of your Facebook friends and receive a coupon for a free Whopper. It's funny, a little mean, easy to measure, and will spread like a wildfire.

However, I prefer BK's other new online effort: the Angry-Gram. Meant to coincide with their new Angry Whopper sandwich, visitors to the site can fill in a Mad-Lib like letter to a friend, which is then generated into an angry tirade given by a cartoon Angry Whopper that can be e-mailed to a friend. It's also funny, a little mean, will spread like a wildfire. In addition, it can generate repeat visits by making each tirade unique. Two of my favorites have been: "Why do you always drive so fast? Are you late for an idiot parade or something?" and "You fake being upset more than a Spanish TV soap star."

Originally the Whopper talked in an angry English cockney accent, which made things even funnier. Checking it out today, however, I noticed the accent had changed to a more normal angry voice (although sometimes it screws up and goes back to the old recordings). Maybe people complained that it was hard to make out what the Whopper was saying. I hope it wasn't changed because a couple of prudes found the accent offending. It wasn't.

Despite all these funny ads, I have yet to get to a Burger King (although the Angry Whopper does look good. Anyone try it yet?). The Burger Kings around me in Cleveland are hard to get to, dirty, depressing, and offer poor service. I'm not exactly surprised, it's still a Burger King. Now that BK has established a strong brand identity through their marketing I think now they need to work on extending that brand identity to the customers' actual BK dining experience.

Feel free to send me an Angry-gram at

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