Midnight Prayers

Dollar Store Novels for Free

Month: July, 2013

Day 137: Summer’s For Music – Regina Spektor’s “You’ve Got Time”

If you haven’t started watching Netflix’s brilliant and dizzyingly original new series Orange is the New Black, then you’re missing the best show to debut since AMC took a gamble on Breaking Bad.  It’s a show that hits comedic, dramatic, and sociological notes within minutes of each other while never feeling overstuffed.  With each entry, creator Jenji Kohan, best known for helming Showtime’s initially terrific but ultimately unsatisfying Weeds, takes episodic story-telling to new levels, making them seem less like chapters in a good novel than tracks on a great album.  Each one could stand alone, but holy shit are they affecting as a whole.

At the center of this triumph is Regina Spektor’s “You’ve Got Time”, an original theme she penned to lead off every episode. Like the show it presents, the song moves wildly through its paces, opening with a Paramore b-side then finding an angelic bridge amid the grime.  Unlike most great prestige-era themes, you’ll probably keep playing this one long after you’ve finished OITNB‘s relatively brisk first season.  Listen below:


Day 136: Summer’s for Music – On Radio Rock and the New Sick Puppies

Connect, the fourth album from Aussie trio Sick Puppies, which was released stateside on July 16th, might as well be ten years old.  I’m not sure if it’s a cultural stop-gap or simply poor taste that transformed the early nu metal incarnation of this band into the lackluster rockers they are today, but even Three Days Grace had some wit to their product.  Connect has none.

This might have flown back in 2003, back when Three Days Grace and Smile Empty Soul made industry rock seem inspired, but everything on Connect sounds extremely dated in 2013.  Take the album-opening “Die to Save You”, a song that leads with a muted metal hook ripped right from the Billy Talent catalogue.  When the cribbed intro recedes and starts treading water on Shim Moore’s platitudes, there’s little structure left to sink your teeth into.  This isn’t even radio rock; it’s boardroom metal.

There’s nothing wrong with having stadium-sized ambitions.  It’s probably not even worth getting into music at all if you’re not interested in filling a stadium with people who want to hear your music.  But there’s a reason Lebron James listens to Imagine Dragons and not Nickelback.

If you want to go stadium big without becoming completely vanilla, there has to be a twist to the formula.  You have to find a new way to package massive hooks.  Night Visions, Imagine Dragons’ massive debut, did just that.  As a whole, Night Visions is more a great piece of market research than it is a good collection of songs.  2012’s biggest radio rock band won their title by mining EDM tropes (“Radioactive”) and running Mumford-y sing-alongs through a computer program (“Demons”).  They produced songs like Will Smith picks movies: by studying trends.  But what makes Night Visions successful is that it’s an album you can tell is wagering on stadium success but still manages to do a fairly good job of never revealing its hand.  You can sense the out-sized ambition, sure, but there are enough brains behind the machine to keep the curtain mostly closed.

Conversely, Connect is an album that leaves the curtain wide open, forcing the spectacle into a state of constant self-awareness.  This type of album needs to, at the very least, feign respect for its audience, but songs like Connect’s “Where Did the Time Go” aren’t just condescending in their banality; they’re downright cynical.  By the time Moore gets to the surprisingly nuanced late-90s nostalgia on the ballad “Healing Now”, you might start to wonder how much he’s been holding back.  Don’t worry, that question will pass.  You probably didn’t want to know the answer anyway.

Day 135: Summer’s For Music – An Alternate Timeline of 808s and Heartbreak

In a 2008 review of Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak, Spin’s Charles Aaron sounds somewhat gleeful scavenging for hits in what he assumes to be a superstar’s grand train wreck, writing, “Most of the songs have hooks or rhythmic twists that other artists would bid Sotheby’s prices for, and even a few… may end up on a greatest-hits comp one day and be accepted as Kanyeezy standards.”  It was an album that, at the time of its release, would simply not be accepted for what it was.  Most of this had to do with its creator, a transcendent talent with a leash-less ego who had a habit of conflating his personal life with everything anyone else worries about: politics, pop culture, even, to a lesser extent then, fashion.  808s was the first time Kanye tried to separate himself from the zeitgeist, to keep things small, but he’d been entrenched far too long for that transition to go smoothly.  This is how he ended up with critics combing through his auto-tuned diary searching for hits.  They were looking for a motive that wasn’t there.

But say it was there.  Say Charles Aaron had a direct line to Kanye back in 2008 and convinced him to pocket the songs from 808s and auction them off slowly over the next few years.  What would a record made up of those songs, re-cast look like?  I think Aaron is correct in his assessment that these songs would have found more commercial success in different hands, but it’s also important to note that this does not necessarily mean they’d be better songs just like giving a giving a Charlie Kaufman script to Michael Bay won’t make for a better movie.  But it’d probably make more money.

My personal feelings about the album aside, there is a widely accepted opinion that 808s has aged extremely well, especially when digested as a primer for the sprawling and even more blood-spilling My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.  It is this same line of thought that made critics so quick to accept Yeezus as a minor masterpiece, recognizing it as the sludgy stepping-stone towards something more massive.  But say Kanye took the hint after that SNL performance and held off on releasing his auto-tune laments.  Say he went after Sotheby money for those songs instead.  Who would have recorded them?  And how big would they have been?

These are all questions worth asking, even if the answers are somewhat self-defeating.  Re-casting the album will destroy its artistic qualities, but it could give us insight into the way pop music functions and help us draw a line between good art and good business.  Even though we know Kanye chose good art, let’s say he chose good business.  Let’s say 808s and Heartbreak never happened.  What happens next?

808s and Heartbreak Re-Cast

1. Say You Will

Recorded by: R. Kelly

What happens?: Throw this on Kelly’s 2009 middler Untitled between “Elsewhere” and “Pregnant”, and it explodes as a more focused slow burner that’s highly tolerable (mostly because the word “booty” is used a total of 0 times).  Everyone forgets about the trials because, even though the song is written by Kanye, this is a more mature and complicated Robert.  We mistake the “maturity” for growth and forgive those two Jay-Z crossover albums.

2. Welcome to Heartbreak

Recorded by: Kanye West feat. Kid Cudi

What happens?:  This is the only track that doesn’t fit the conceit of this article*.  It has too many seeds of Kid Cudi-influence that end up crafting Dark Twisted Fantasy.  I outsourced this one to my brother, and the best suggestion he had was Adam Levine, which isn’t crazy, especially with those high-pitched “Oohs”.  Not to mention that anything he releases on his own could end up sounding a little like this.  I’m just not sure that’s such a good thing or if Kanye would ever let that happen.  So this song remains in Kanye’s back pocket until he releases it in the G.O.O.D. Fridays deluge and everyone begins to worry.  Then, when Dark Twisted Fantasy drops, Kid Cudi becomes the most sought after collaborator in the business.

3. Heartless

Recorded by: Justin Timberlake

What happens?: Rather than waiting six years in-between FutureSex/LoveSounds and The 20/20 Experience, JT finds his footing in sparse landscapes like the one Kanye constructed here.  He becomes fascinated with this style of sing-rapping and begins doing his own guest verses.  The album surrounding “Heartless” is a disaster, but the mega-hit at its center buoys his stardom just enough to make The 20/20 Experience seem like a much better record when it inevitably becomes his shot at redemption.

4. Amazing

Recorded by: Rihanna feat. Young Jeezy

What happens?: Rihanna decides to throw out “Hard”, her initial Jeezy collab on Rated R, and takes on this one instead.  The song is an instant anthem and holds court on the Hot 100 causing her album to debut at number 1 on Billboard.  This song, coupled with “Run This Town” dropping in the same year, gives Rihanna rap royalty status on par with Beyonce.

5. Love Lockdown and 6. Paranoid

Recorded by: Usher

What Happens?:  Both songs end up on Raymond v Raymond and while “Paranoid” doesn’t get much traction, Usher still dances to it at the Grammys.  “Love Lockdown”, though, is bigger than “OMG”, a song where pop Usher finally meets sensitive Usher.  It changes the entire arc of his career, and he starts writing more songs like this, aligning slow jamz with aggressive pop hooks, to huge commercial success.  He never becomes a host on The Voice.

7. Robocop

Recorded by: Beyonce

What happens?: The lyrics are tweaked slightly (every “she” becomes a “he”) and the strings instantly remind everyone of “Halo”.  She ends her Super Bowl performance with a medley of those two songs and a studio version heavily advertised throughout the second half power outage sits at number 1 on iTunes until Daft Punk drops “Get Lucky”.

8. Street Lights

Recorded by: The Airborne Toxic Event

What happens?: Those chiming guitars give the “Sometime Around Midnight” bottled lightning hoarders another breakthrough hit.  This success drives them to seek more outside help, and they become the indie-emo Queens of the Stone Age.  Their second album isn’t a politicized dud, but a collection of high profile contributions including co-writing credits from Trent Reznor and Win Butler.  Butler’s fingerprints on the project make Pitchfork give the album a 7.6.  They get a Grammy nod but eventually lose to Arcade Fire.  Win Butler mentions them in his acceptance speech.

9. Bad News

Recorded by: Frank Ocean

What happens?: When Kanye plays this track for Frank, channelORANGE is immediately re-imagined as a double album.  “Bad News” ends up being “Bad Religion”’s counterpart on the second disc and a John Mayer solo is mixed into the final cut.  When everyone finds out Kanye wrote the song, a common through-line of love forms in our cultural consciousness, and we begin to accept all love as being the same.  Watch the Throne 2 features a Frank Ocean hook on 10 out of 13 songs (note: this could still happen.)

10. See You In My Nightmares

Recorded by: Drake

What happens?: Drake burns this one off on the R&B mixtape he never released after Thank Me Later, ramping things up on that “Find Your Love” pitch.  It gets some love on blogs and satellite radio, and Take Care ends up moving 700,000 copies in the first week.  Everything else pretty much happens as it did.

11. Coldest Winter

Recorded by: Bruno Mars

What happens?: It’s released as the first official single from Unorthodox Jukebox, and after a buzz-y SNL performance, Mars cuts every song from the album besides “Young Girls”.  Forgetting that he didn’t write “Coldest Winter”, Unorthodox Jukebox becomes Bruno Mars’s Chinese Democracy.  After blowing through $57 million trying to find depth in the melody from “When I Was Your Man”, Mars retires from music.  The album is never released.

So there’s the alternate timeline.  It’s hard to say which is preferable, the real outcome or this imagined one.  I’m not sure how much we’ve learned from this little exercise either, other than the fact that 808s and Heartbreak should never have been so glossed over.  Even with Bruno Mars retiring from music in the alternate timeline, I think I prefer ours better.  At least in ours art won out over business, if only this one time.

*Neither does “Pinnochio Story (Freestyle)”, but that track is a questionable inclusion on 808s in the first place, so it will be excluded completely here.

Day 134: Summer’s For Music – Vampire Weekend Covers Robin Thicke, Also T.I.

This cover has been making its way around the internet and might seem inconsequential.  Well, inconsequential until of course you realize that, unlike Queens of the Stone Age, Ezra Koenig does not shy away from T.I.’s verse.  It also gives us a glimpse of what could have been if Vampire Weekend’s first incarnation as a rap group called L’Homme Run had panned out.  It’s a cover that has some soul to it, even when they forget the lyrics and kind of mumble through it.

Listen below:


Day 133: Summer’s For Music – On Blockbuster Music and 5 Albums You Might’ve Missed

This article first appeared here.

Summer is a time for blockbusters.  Massive urban destruction and superhuman redemption overcrowds our movie theaters, and we line up to watch it all burn.  It’s become a ritual, escaping the heat and throwing ourselves into the fires of Gotham, which is actually New York, which is actually Hollywood, which is actually Pittsburgh, and emerging renewed, surviving the sonic boom of twisted metal and Hans Zimmer horn blasts.  It’s a ritual, and we all abide.

But 2013 is a different type of year, the year of the music blockbuster, albums sold to you straight up as products, with hashtags reading #NewRules but are really just recycling old ones.  Chris Nolan sold The Dark Knight Rises to you by plastering the bat symbol on the sides of buildings, so Kanye did the same with his face.  The Avengers sold you an app, so Jay-Z made one too.  This is the year where music adopted the ritual; so don’t feel bad if you’re still stuck in the fire.  We’ve all been there.

I’ve put together a brief list for anyone who’s ready to move on, a collection of small time projects that would probably be showing in the art house theater in town that sells vegan popcorn and “all-natural soda”.  Here are five albums to cure your blockbuster hangover.

Baths – Obsidian

Baths’s atmospheric and burrowing third album, Obsidian, can be imperfectly described as The Postal Service’s Give Up if it were rewritten by Darren Aronofsky.  It’s at its best when Will Wiesenfeld pushes his vocals flat against the music, letting them form a slight crust around the album’s expansive core.  His voice is more malleable, though, and can also fill in any empty spaces left among the complex arrangements, like roots spilling downward.  Obsidian is a dense album in the best sense of the word.


Gunplay – Acquitted

Acquitted is one of those mixtapes that could easily be pulled into the ephemera, a collection of mostly unmemorable songs from Maybach Music’s end of the bench player, Gunplay.  For the first nine tracks, Acquitted is a strong reminder of exactly who Gunplay is as an artist: a solid, often clever role player who is capable of chilling transcendence, like the final verse of the Peryon featuring “Salute Me” where he warns, “AR15, scrate, scar the scene/Only way you breathin’ if the grace of God intervene/I’m bringing trouble on the double, my double back gon’ be me/N—as gon’ perish they babies and parents gon’ bleed.”  It’s a pair of lines that represent the real version of a particular type of sincere insanity Maybach artists are usually best known for feigning.  This sincerity is what makes Acquitted‘s closing, and far and away best, track, “Bible on the Dash” so affecting.   With a surprisingly vulnerable vocal performance, one that is contrasted brilliantly with production sounding like it was built exclusively for the Don himself, the reflective track becomes both the most noteworthy part of the mixtape and the most genuinely enthralling.  ”Bible on the Dash”, unlike the rest of the album, feels more spontaneous, like Gunplay laid it all down in a one-take freestyle.  I’m sure this isn’t the case, it couldn’t be, but there’s something about the song that is unforgettable.  It moves like so few Maybach joints can.  If Gunplay is just a role player, then this is his Danny Green moment.


Caroline Reese – Slow Code

The Americana canon is getting congested, that’s for sure, but here’s the other side of the bottleneck.  Caroline Reese’s second album, the itinerant Slow Code, roots out all the overdramatics brought into the genre by Mumford and Sons and newer Avett Brothers to rebuild everything using only base elements.  The themes might be familiar, but the lyrical staging imbues her stories with a fresh perspective, skipping the superficial and finding the soul, like the Coen brothers directing a western.  Everything you need to know about Reese’s strength of songwriting can be found on “Fog In The Headlights”, a storm scene that doesn’t get caught up with itself, but moves into clear, focused prose.  It’s personal yet relatable, specific yet common.  It’s Americana.


Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold

Parquet Courts’ second album Light Up Gold is so furiously focused and punk-paced that it always feels like singer Andrew Savage might get left in its wake.  Really, his vocals sound like they were recorded in some sweaty, smoke-invaded karaoke bar, and he’s spending most of the night trying to keep up with the words as they scroll across the screen.  Savage is the band’s nuclear reactor getting ready to blow.  It might not always sound great, but few albums get this kind of energy right.


Waxahatchee – Cerculean Salt

Katie Crutchfield’s second album under the name Waxahatchee, Salt is a collection of fractured stories and refracted light, all of which are cleverly pieced together so that the jagged edges create a sort of momentum-building covalent bond.  Crutchfield plays with themes and imagery like an ordinary songwriter might mess around with the arrangements, allowing Salt to become more of a movie than an album, balanced on a soundtrack just sturdy enough to hold everything up.  But what makes the album so strong is its grasp of minimalism, not in instrumentation, but in emotion.  Only two songs exceed three minutes, which lets Crutchfield come at you with gut-punches that never lament.  It’s an album that makes sense because it doesn’t fit together exactly right.  These aren’t polaroids; they’re vivid, pulsing memories.

Day 132: Summer’s For Music: Sallie Ford in Philly

This review first appeared here.

Last night at the Milkboy in Philadelphia, a venue arranged like a sonic wind tunnel directing you right to where the action is, I was greeted by the headlining act sitting at their own merch table, kicking it with fans.  The thing about the Milkboy is that there is no excess room.  It’s a concert venue built like a Ziploc bag, something that forcibly builds a feeling of community other bars usually sacrifice for breathing room.  Last night, the breathlessness gave way to familiarity, so when the bands took the stage, even if you’d never heard a song of theirs before that night, it felt like you already kind of knew them.

The first act, a band regrettably named Katie Frank and the Phermones (how bad do you feel for the three dudes who have to introduce themselves as “the Phermones”?), played a solid set of fuzzed over singer-songwriter jams.  With birth certificates claiming they’re from Philly, the band cut through songs that had an unmistakable Alabama tint.  Everything hit a new gear when Frank stopped jogging and sprinted through a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son”, channeling the swagger John Fogerty’s words deserved.  It was all energy and slightly awkward dancing, the kind of country-singed music made for stomping.  They could use a little more of this in their originals.

Then there was Juston Stens and the Get Real Gang.  Another local outfit, these dudes took the stage with Johnny Cash-referencing sunglasses, taking the show on a detour through rest stop meth-blues.  They were the kind of band you’d expect The Drive-By Truckers to sound like, a band that didn’t belong in a bar.  They needed a beer-soaked lawn to thrive.  It was a wonderfully unfocused set, breaking into digressions of piano pounding codas that might’ve been irritating if they weren’t so much fun.  Then there was standout, “Lonely Lonely Night”, a song that opens with a Queen-esque harmony then files itself down to the type of slow burner that’s difficult to get right.  By the end, these dudes had almost burned the place down.

Last up was Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside, a band from Portland that wouldn’t look out of place on a Fred Armisen show.  Luckily, they have the musical chops to transcend to the jokes, and with a lead singer wearing glasses that make her look like she wandered in off the set of Grease, that’s saying something.  I don’t mean to mock Sallie Ford’s stage presence because it’s actually the thing that magnetizes the band.  She’s the type of fronter everyone should be cribbing.  She writes songs like ready-made mantras, repurposing pop goddess defiance for rockabilly knockouts.  It’d be wrong to say she’s a more palatable P!nk because her attitude is closer to Nicki Minaj.  She’s what would’ve happened if Joan Jett never donned the leather jacket.  Songs like “Bad Boys” and “Devil” drew screams from the crowd, not whistles.  This was feminism that never felt like a statement.

There is an issue with the type of rockabilly she traffics in, though, in the sparseness of melodic infrastructure.  All her songs held massive lyrical weight but too often capsized because of insufficient support.  It was no surprise, then, that two of the best songs, or at least most memorable, were a cover and an unreleased track.  The cover, a version of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” with all the helium sucked out, gave Sallie a new blueprint to play with, revealing how dynamic she could be if she’d ever stray from her comfort zone.  The other, an unreleased track excellently titled “Fuck That”, drew on punky vibes that drove the song through the roof.  “My friends tell me to take it slow,” she sang.  “Fuck that.”  If she heeds her own advice here, Sallie Ford and her hired help could be ready to make the leap.

Day 131: An Excerpt

It’s a blotchy day, clouds are cast out in pairs across the sky like cheap fishing tackle, and I’m treading in the fluorescence of a high school classroom.  Ms. Shannon, my U.S. History teacher, is drawing up a map of the thirteen colonies.  She makes mistakes, goes back, erases sloppily, leaving trails, dusty breadcrumbs, and her shirt untucks partially, another miscalculation of her accumulated proportions.  It’s her first year at Georgetown High School.  Her first year teaching, actually.  She decided to pick it up after logging what her colleagues considered more than extensive time researching colonial eating habits for the North Carolina Museum of History.  “Moving on up,” she’d told us on her first day.  We chuckled, assuming incorrectly that she was joking.

By today, though, we’ve already gotten over all the initial jokes, the size of her glasses, how she forgets to drop the y in “colonies”.  Now there’s a new punch line.  I make eye contact with Johnny.  We know something, so we don’t laugh.  Not yet.

It had only taken Johnny a few weeks after meeting Ms. Shannon to start drawing dicks on the blackboard in her classroom. He was always drawing something.  During his freshman year, Johnny got called out for doodling during class, and when the teacher asked him to present his work to everyone, he held up a picture of a stump with giant, twisting roots.  “It’s a picture of my parent’s love life,” he said.

His dicks started off small and on the fringes of the blackboard.  He’d get to class 5 minutes early every day and put one up there, right in the middle of the blackboard, unmistakable.  When Ms. Shannon came in and saw the dick, she would erase it silently, not making eye contact with any of us, and we’d laugh into our textbooks, sharing the prank with miniature portraits of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.  Soon the dicks began to grow, taking up more and more of the blackboard, colonizing the blank space, and each day, Ms. Shannon would erase it, never saying a word.

She’s finishing the map now, an awkward and disproportionate reimagining of the past.  The classroom has one of those chalkboards with two faces, the kind you can slide upward to reveal a second black sheet and don’t have to erase what you’ve just written.  “This is our country’s baby picture,” she tells us, pausing optimistically for a laugh.  She finds no takers.  Her voice still has the stale crust of a museum tour guide.

Johnny sits forward, waiting for her to slide the first face up.  She finally obliges, and the class erupts.  Fifty dicks, ten rows of five, stretch out across the chalkboard, a rank and file of soldiers at full attention.  Ms. Shannon’s shoulders drop and she collapses in the direction of her chair, surrendering.  Her sobs are so deep a teacher in the next classroom over calls the police.  The clouds glide across the sky, tempting fish that aren’t there.  Johnny laughs through it all.

Day 130: Summer’s For Music – Against Me!’s “True Trans”

Last year, when Against Me! frontman and exclamation point enthusiast Tom Gabel opened up publicly about his transexual dysphoria and became Laura Jane Grace, the transitioning punk was met with wide-reaching support from all ends of the music map, from the crusty basements he used to scream in to the MTV airwaves that used to ignore his screaming.  It was a truly powerful moment in music, one that reminded us of the gap between art and artists, lyrics and consciousness.  No one who knew Gabel solely through his music saw it coming, so when he told us, it felt like we had spent all that time getting to know a different guy, someone who wasn’t Tom Gabel, someone who wasn’t suffering silently with his identity.  We assumed that he presented himself as a lie.  It made his art seem like less an interpretation of the world than a distraction from it, some sort of shallow diversion.  We never really knew Tom Gabel.

But then we looked back at his songs and saw that his struggle was there the whole time, in his lyrics and the strained way he sang them.  He’d never presented us a lie; we’d just missed the point.

Because Laura Jane Grace, when she was Tom Gabel, always wrote about her transsexuality with subtlety, it makes sense, now that she’s come out publicly, that her next record would ditch the subtlety and go into an emotional free fall she could never before.  What was always worrisome about this project, the boldly titled Transgender Dysphoria Blues, is that it wouldn’t be able to find the commonality in an uncommon struggle, a point of entry that would allow everyone who isn’t struggling with their identity in this specific way to understand what it means to struggle with their identity in this specific way.  The album will no doubt be highly personal and most likely emotionally draining, but with such prescient material, the expectation is that it will be transcendent, that it will talk about transgender dysphoria like Toni Morrison talks about race.

Obviously these expectations are mostly unrealistic, and I’m not trying to say that Laura Jane Grace is the next Toni Morrison or that she even has the talent to make something as profound as anything Morrison has done.  What I am trying to point to is that I’m not sure if there’s anyone else who has this big of a stage to try.

This is why her new EP, True Trans, which she’s giving away for free on her band’s site here, is something worth getting excited about.  On it, Laura Jane Grace sounds uncharacteristically calm, liberated by her new transparency, but her lyrics are as ambitious as ever and particularly striking in their weighted simplicity.  Even with a track named “FuckMyLife666”, this is an EP with very real beauty.  Maybe it’s the acoustic guitars keeping her grounded, but I’m convinced True Trans is a sign of coming transcendence.  It’s made up of the common themes that plague the uncommon struggle, telling the story so even the most obtuse listener might be able to understand it.  With lines as good as, “Don’t want to live without teeth/Don’t want to die without bite/I don’t want to say that I regret it”,  she’s doing much more than earning our attention.

Listen to “FuckMyLife666” below:

Day 129: Them Gears is Stories, Excerpt

There’s a song on the radio, quietly pulsing beneath a layer of static.  An old soul breaks through, These gears is stories.  Rolling down a road carved between feasting trees, the satellite signal cuts out.

Day 128: Summer’s For Music – Frank Turner’s “The Way I Tend To Be”

England’s folk-punk bannerman went full pop on his most recent album, Tape Deck Heart.  One of the songs worth remembering from that experiment is the light and redemptive “The Way I Tend To Be”.  It’s a great, swollen pop song kept grounded by the earnestness of its singer.  I could get down with this type of radio rock.