Fave Five: Musicians (#1)

This is the last of five posts in our new blog series, “Fave Five”.  Alex Brewer and I have gone through and selected our five favorite musicians and written about why we’ve selected them.  The first four posts can be found here.

——

KB: Day Five of Five, Brewer, and neither of us has selected Chad Kroeger or Avril Lavigne yet!  How have our lists of favorite musicians gone so horribly wrong?

Musical nirvana.

AB: And how could we forget such legends like Rebecca Black or Creed!  Man, we’re just so bad at this.

KB: Dreadful work on our part.  By the way, I was just jamming out to Eve 6’s “Inside Out”…did you know that song’s not actually called “Beautiful Oblivion”?  Or “Heart in a Blender”?  Crazy.

Wanna run through a few of our honorable-mention selections before getting to our #1 picks?  List as many as you want.

AB: Tom Morello: Created a style on guitar that can’t ever be duplicated.

Bruce Springsteen: If you read yesterday, you know why he is here.

Thom Yorke: A phenomenal musical mind in one of the most innovative bands ever.

Elton John: Enough said.

John Frusciante: In my opinion, the most talented musician in Red Hot Chili Peppers – which is saying a lot.

You?

KB: Where to even begin?  This list could stretch on for hours, and I’m sure I’m still forgetting some people.  Let’s start:

Noel Gallagher: On a list of favorite anything that has to do with music, it’s rather shocking to not see Noel Gallagher involved.  And as a songwriter, Noel goes right to the top.  But as a musician – well, there’s not much other than some solidly good guitar playing.  I don’t doubt Noel’s musicianship, but it doesn’t do nearly the same instrumentally and creatively as the choices on my list.  A sad omission.

I know. I’m sorry, Noel. I feel the same way.

Billy Joel: Ben Folds is a little bit weirder and more sonically diverse than Billy, I think, so Ben got the nod for the #5 slot in terms of piano players.

Jimmy Page, Matthew Bellamy: See Brewer’s list.

Jay-Z: Sort of a Joel/Folds situation with Jay-Z and Kanye West.  Kanye produced a bunch of Jay’s tracks and I like Kanye’s albums better, so ‘Ye gets the nod.

Bono, The Edge: Bono doesn’t play an instrument.  The Edge, though he creates the guitar sound, doesn’t do most of the songwriting.  U2 seems to be a band where everyone does his job, and does it amazingly well, but in a list dependent on versatility and overall work, that doesn’t make the cut.

Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart: See the final line of U2.  Great show on Saturday night, though.

Flea: What a rad bassist.  Awesomely funky, studied music theory, just didn’t quite have enough juice to make the list.

Keith Richards: A legend, obviously.  Left off for the same reasons as Jimmy Page, I think…just hasn’t meant as much to me musically because of the era.  Also, are we sure he’s alive?

Brian Wilson: Boy, this was tough.  How the hell do you leave the creative force behind the freaking Beach Boys off of this list?  But ultimately, in a list of “favorites”, my five stayed my five.  Brian might make it in a few years, but I’ve been a bit of a late starter in terms of digging into the Boys.

I’m curious to know, having had a window to your previous thoughts – when did Thom Yorke drop out of your top five?

AB: Well, he was a fringe guy on my list for sure.  In terms of my personal taste, I gave the edge to Bellamy in terms of their head-to-head battle.  I couldn’t put him over a guitarist from Led Zeppelin.  I couldn’t put him ahead of Jack White because of the raw individual talent.  I could have heard an argument against Jeff Tweedy, but I wanted to include Tweedy because I feel he’s massively underrated.

Leaving him out was certainly a last-minute decision, but I don’t regret it.  I love Radiohead, but I just couldn’t quite get him into the top five.

I was surprised Bono didn’t make your list, though.  I completely agree with your thinking on why not to include him, but I thought you might push him in.

KB: He was never that close, honestly.  If we do a songwriter list, things might change for him.

By the way – I’m glad you didn’t put Yorke on.  But I’m not a big Radiohead guy.

By the way, part two – we are both currently listening to Jack White’s Blunderbuss on Spotify.  Tremendous album.

Not to be confused with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s “Blunderbuss”, also a tremendous album.

Any thoughts before I reveal my top choice?

AB: I love Spotify.  I pay for the premium account.  It is so worth it.

My only thought entering this final chapter is that I hope we do more of these in the future.  They’ve have been interesting to write, and it’s fun to go back and listen to music you haven’t enjoyed in a while.

Other than that…let’s get to it!

KB: Here we go…Lonely Island…together on the track…the boys are back.

1. Sir Paul McCartney

Well, this was easy.

Let’s start this post with a factual opinion: The Beatles were, are and will always be the greatest band to ever walk the earth.  I will hear arguments for Led Zeppelin or The Rolling Stones as the greatest rock and roll band.  But in terms of “greatest band”, it is not a debate.  That is a fact.  Anyone who disagrees is wrong.

Here’s another fact: John Lennon was the greatest creative force behind The Beatles, with or without the use of illicit drugs.  Sadly, John Lennon is no longer alive.  So, on this list of “Favorite Five Active Musicians”, the top spot goes to the next-best choice, and my personal favorite Beatle: Paul McCartney.

I don’t believe I need to talk much about why The Beatles were the greatest band of all-time.  They revolutionized music.  They revolutionized studio recording.  They revolutionized the world.  And McCartney was at the center of it all, as part of the most famous songwriting duo in history: Lennon/McCartney.

Let’s talk about musicianship.  McCartney is a bass player by heart, but that’s not all he can do.  He’s a beautiful piano player who’s also played keyboards and a Moog synthesizer.  He’s played the drums on Beatles, Wings and solo McCartney albums.  He can rock out on electric guitar or strum an acoustic guitar.  He played the ukulele when I saw him in concert.  And he uses his voice as an amazing instrument – yelling, screaming, softly cooing, singing the blues, singing with soul.

Let’s talk about a musical ear and a musical mind.  McCartney famously wrote the melody for “Yesterday” in a dream.  Once he awoke, he ran over to the piano to play it.  He conducted the orchestral crescendos for “A Day in the Life”, while slotting in a previously unused tune as the song’s middle section.  He wrote a song that was performed entirely with strings, with none of the Beatles playing an instrument on the recording – “Eleanor Rigby”.  In case you’ve been living under a rock for your entire life, those are three of the greatest songs written in history.

These guys are more into “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”.

Let’s talk about longevity.  McCartney played in the world’s greatest-ever band, The Beatles, for a decade.  Then he played with Wings, an excellent group, for 11 years.  And from that point on, he’s continued to record and perform as a solo artist.  He still rocks out in three-hour shows chock-full of hits old and new.

Let’s talk about versatility.  You want a soft sound?  Have a listen to “Yesterday”.  You want a heavy sound?  Here’s “Helter Skelter”.  Up-tempo R&B?  Check out “I’m Down”.  Classical, orchestral music?  He’s composed several albums.  Avant-garde electronica?  Just listen to his work as The Fireman.

It’s just a no-brainer.  There’s Paul McCartney – there’s a sizeable gap – and then there’s everybody else.

AB: All fair points.  It really is too bad that I can’t get into The Beatles.  I respect them to the nth degree, but I’ve just been able to sit down and consistently listen to their music.  I don’t know what it is.

I will say that I think it’s REALLY tough to call any band the “greatest” band of all-time.  Here’s what I will say – The Beatles were the most influential music act in the modern musical era.  They changed the tide of the entire industry.

The thing I have the biggest problem with in your review is your final line.  Yes, McCartney is the most decorated musician ever.  Yes, he was part of the most influential band.  But to call the gap between him and the field sizable is wrong.  Paul McCartney is quite a talent, but post-Beatles, his fame was manufactured (in my opinion).  Did he write and perform great songs?  Absolutely!  I just question whether or not Paul McCartney would have been Paul McCartney without The Beatles.  It’s a what-if game you can play with a lot of people…but there is not a SIZABLE gap between him and your #2.  I think even you can recognize that.

KB: Sure, it’s a total “what if” game, and he obviously hasn’t been the same post-Beatles.  What I mean is there’s a sizable gap in terms of his career accomplishments.

Also, I’m stubborn.

Brewer, I’ve always wanted to imagine you as Faux-semite Sam.

It’s absurd to me that anyone couldn’t get into The Beatles, but hey, individual musical tastes are like snowflakes – they’re white and only form in winter.  No, wait, no two are the same.  That’s what I meant.  At least you’re intelligent enough to appreciate them, of course.

But anyway, Herr Brewer, the floor is currently yours to continue…

AB:

1. Trent Reznor (Musical God)

(Prepare for a book of a review…)

If you know me at all, this comes as no shock whatsoever.  I’ve been a Trent Reznor fanboy since I started to really get into music.  Every single move this man has made I have called brilliant.  He basically can’t do any wrong in my eyes…and it’s for that simple reason that I think he is the best musician currently alive.

From my reviews of Tweedy, White, Bellamy, and Page, it’s quite clear what my criteria is when enjoying someone’s music.  You have to be creative.  You have to be unique.  You have to be multi-talented.  You have to do things that have never been done before.  You have to stretch the limits.  You have to be the best at what you do.

That’s the brilliance of Trent Reznor.  Not only is he the best at what he does, he is the ONLY person that does what he does.  I’ll list the three things that amaze me the most about this man…and trust me, there are plenty more.

1. His music production is unmatched.

Pretty Hate Machine came out the year I was born, in 1989.  And when you listen to the record, it sounds like it was made in the 1980s.  It’s got a cheesy, electronic sound and sounds like it was made on an old Macintosh computer.  This is not me bashing the record at all, because, trust me – it is very, VERY good.  But it inherently sounds like a record from the ’80s.  Reznor was just starting to experiment with his music and sound at the time, and it came when computer-engineered music was still trying to figure itself out.

Outside of that one record and a couple singles that came after it, every single production Reznor has touched has sounded AT LEAST 10 years ahead of its time.  The Downward Spiral came out in 1994, and it sounds like it should have been released in 2004.  With Teeth came out in 2005, and it sounds like it still could be brand-new today.  Technology’s come a long way in studios, but to be that ahead of the curb is just remarkable.

The genre that most correctly describes Nine Inch Nails is “industrial rock.”  If you search for “industrial rock” on Wikipedia and look at the bands listed, you’ll see that none of them made it big here in the United States.  Not only did Reznor make it big, but he defined the entire genre – by himself.  Which leads me to my second point.

2. It’s just Reznor…

…and no one else is in control.  Every Nine Inch Nails song was created, written, produced, and performed by Trent Reznor.  Does he hire people to help?  Absolutely.  He HIRES people.  That means he gets to CHOOSE who he wants to tour with.  Typical rock bands have a similar lineup for the entirety of the band existing.  Reznor has had 21 performers work for him at least once.  Who else can say that?  A rock act cycled TWENTY-ONE individual members in a 20-year span.

It’s one thing to make music for a long time.  It’s another thing to make music for a long time by yourself and CHOOSE who is the best person to perform with.  Each album and tour required a certain instrumentation and group of band members.  No tour was the same.  No show was the same.  I know bands like to switch it up, but Reznor took that mantra to a completely different level.  Speaking of a completely different level…

3. The music is equal to all other aspects of his career.

Here’s what I mean by that.  In 1999, Reznor hired a college student named Rob Sheridan because he created a killer Nine Inch Nails fan site.  Sheridan’s job, at the time, was to just maintain NIN’s new website.  But he grew to be one of the biggest parts of the band by becoming Reznor’s personal art director, photographer, and visual guru.  Regardless of whether you call it luck or genius, the hiring of Sherdian really took the brand of the band to the next level.

With Reznor, the music is equal to the album art.  The music is equal to the live show’s light production.  The music is equal to the website.  The music is equal to EVERYTHING.

The best example of all of this in play is NIN’s release of the Ghosts I-IV box set. I’ll quote from NIN’s ghosts.nin.com here:

“The music arrived unexpectedly as the result of an experiment.  The rules were as follows: 10 weeks, no clear agenda, no overthinking, everything driven by impulse.  Whatever happens during that time gets released as…something.”

HOW COOL OF A CONCEPT IS THAT?!?!

Brewer’s head, right about now.

(…oh,and, it’s worth noting that the album was released as a high-quality digital download with no record label backing.)

Here’s my whole, long-winded point – Reznor is as versatile of a performer as it gets.  Listen to “Into The Void” by Nine Inch Nails.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.

OK, I’m done waiting.

Can you accurately write down on a piece of paper what instrument created every sound you heard?  The correct answer is no.  No, you can’t.  Reznor creates sounds in the most unique ways.  He’ll take a flute, and make it sound like a guitar.  He’ll take a trumpet, and bring it down to mimic a bass.  Are there a lot of synths?  Of course there are, but not all of the sounds are created strictly by digital machines.  Those sounds you are hearing are all manipulated somehow by Reznor.

I love the production process of music so much (heck, I probably take its value into consideration way too much).  And Trent has never come out and said how he creates his sounds.  In fact, he barely comes out and reveals anything to the public about anything.  That’s the brilliant part of his brand.  He wants to keep his audience guessing and the music fresh…and oh, by the way, he started doing this starting in the early ’90s.  Not many people knew HOW to do it, let alone PERFECT it like Reznor did.

There are so many other reasons I could ramble on about, but the point is there has never been a musician quite like Reznor.  His shows are masterfully produced.  His music is even better.  His creativity is out of this world.  He has no limits.  I haven’t even mentioned his involvement in TWO major motion pictures, music design in video games, How To Destroy Angels, Saul Williams’ albums, a Beats by Dre project, a reality game related to Year Zero, and the many other things that CONTINUE to illustrate my point.

I’m sure I’ll get a lot of pushback for putting Trent Reznor as my greatest musician alive today.  I completely understand that a lot of this is subjective – but for an artist of Reznor’s caliber to only win two Grammy Awards is pretty absurd to me.

…but, of course, he won an Oscar.  So the music world can go promptly suck it.

KB: Before I respond in full – how long have you been waiting to write that?

AB: A very long time.  Not going to lie…it felt good.  I could go on for longer if you want…

KB:

Save it for the director’s cut.  (By the way: for how long do you think we could sit down and talk about only The Beatles and Reznor?  And would anyone actually enjoy watching it besides us?  No, right?)

My first experience with Reznor was hearing “Closer” on KROQ when I was in high school.  I immediately hated it and everything Nine Inch Nails stood for.  Oops.

It wasn’t until With Teeth, honestly, that I started to see the light.  And ever since then, I’ve been fascinated by Reznor.  (Not to the extent that you are, because, well, obviously.)  He’s an absurdly versatile performer.  I can’t even begin to imagine what the slightest portion of his musical brain must feel like.

One of my most-listened-to albums in the past two years has been Reznor’s work with Atticus Ross for the soundtrack to The Social Network.  In fact, I’m not sure I’ve listened to any other album straight through over the past two years as much as that one.  Again, this is an instrumental soundtrack.  I’d have laughed if you told me that two years ago.

When did you first truly discover Trent?

AB: Same thing for me, actually.  I heard “Closer” on WCYY.  Hated it.  Thought it was stupid and vulgar.  Moved on.

I didn’t really experience music until I entered high school, so I can’t be held at fault for not listening to Reznor sooner.  Once I heard With Teeth, I started to really dive in and explore everything about NIN, which meant Reznor, and I became obsessed almost overnight.  Throughout the rest of high school, I spent most of my musical time listening to Reznor-related projects.  A band with a single band member just fascinated me.

Again, I like to believe the music I listen is the very best…not just what I think is the very best.  I don’t think I come off as an industrial rock kind of guy in person.  However, listening to Reznor is more about the style of music.  It’s the whole creative process – visually, musically, and aesthetically.  All of the details are accounted for.

KB: How strange is that?  We both got into Reznor due to With Teeth – a fine album, and an underrated one in my book, but probably not in the Pantheon of Reznor works, right?

AB: Oh, it is absolutely is in the Pantheon.  Prior to With Teeth, it had been six years since his last full-length album.  I don’t want to get into it fully, but With Teeth was a change in sound and direction which set the tone for the final leg of NIN’s existence.

I’ve been talking about Reznor too long.  Anything else to add about McCartney?

KB: Not really.  He’s just the best.

OK, I will add this.

…but now I’m listening to Nine Inch Nails because you have inspired me!  And I just listened to Jack White’s solo album as well.  I think you’ve done some work opening my musical eyes here, Brewer.  And I suppose the point of this was for us to help knock down some musical barriers that other people had up, right?

AB: That was the point. I’m glad we did this…it was quite fun.  Again, I can’t wait to participate in the “The 2nd Law sucks” debate.

For now, I hope your fine readers gained some knowledge on some of our favorite artists.  Thanks for having me!

KB: ‘Twas a pleasure.  You get the last word this time.  (For real.)

AB: …but….but…but…I don’t know what to say! You close it.

KB: If you insist.

http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/recap?gameId=320205017

——

Alex Brewer (@ACBrew) is a contributing writer for “Kevin Reviews Things”. Hailing from the lost and forgotten state of Maine, Alex enjoys music no one would think he listens to, Boston sports teams, and Starcraft 2 a little too much. 

Follow Kevin on twitter @kevinnbrown.

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