Mike Herrera is only 35, but his band is 20. So it's natural that he should begin wondering whether time is on his side-and that he should sound more convincing singing "I love my life now, but those were the best of times" than he does singing "These are the times I'm living for. / Every day is better than the one before." Curiously, since they drum and strum as fast, tightly, and melodically as ever, neither Yuri Riley nor Tom Wisniewski seems to have gotten the memo.
This latest testament to Simon Cowell's hit-recognizing knack is as prefabricated as pop music comes, a direct result of the talent-show assembly line. Clean? Yes. Catchy? Relentlessly so. The stuff that the dreams of mass merchandisers targeting teenage girls with disposable income are made of? Of course. And, frankly, both the merchandisers and the girls could be doing much worse. But just when you think the boys are singing "I want a savior," you read the lyrics and realize they only "want to save ya."
Seventeen songs by 15 acts, none of which have a Wikipedia entry and only four of which merit a mention at Allmusic.com-the subtitle sets the stylistic and chronological parameters, but "blaxploitation-film soundtrack" would've done just as well. Amid spacey soundscapes, slinky synthesizers punctuate reified ghetto emotions recollected in tranquility. Topics include, but are not limited to, poverty (Spontaneous Overthrow, "Money"); self-respect and/or esteem (Key & Cleary, "I'm a Man"), and, when all is said and done, Jesus Christ (Otis G. Johnson, "Time to Go Home").
Despite the duet partners and the singer's amazement over having logged more years than his late father, Wainwright's 25th album isn't all that different from any of the others he's recorded since his mother's death in 1997. Besides, mortality has long haunted even his funniest songs, as anyone who remembers his only hit, "Dead Skunk," can confirm. What's different is the poignancy resulting from his conviction that he's living on borrowed time-and that, if he isn't, he'll have to find a way to top himself yet again.
When Dick Clark died in April, obituaries focused on his taste-shaping role as a multimedia mogul, paying special attention to American Bandstand. The praise drowned out the accusations of his detractors-to wit, that only Clark's Teflon reputation had kept him from going down with Alan Freed during the payola scandal and that he had "whitened" rock 'n' roll to the financial detriment of black musicians.
What wasn't drowned out-because it wasn't mentioned-was the criticism leveled at American Bandstand by Ignatius J. Reilly, the protagonist of John Kennedy Toole's comic novel A Confederacy of Dunces. A self-declared enemy of modernity, Reilly feeds his disdain for pop culture by watching Bandstand every afternoon. "What an egregious insult to good taste," he screams at one point. "Do I believe the total perversion that I am witnessing?" One can only imagine what Reilly would think of pop music circa 2012. But one thing's certain: He'd blame Dick Clark.