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"A strange new sound that makes boys explore."
— Will and Grace's Eric McCormack singing Elton John and Bernie Taupin's "The Greatest Discovery"
SONIC REDUCER Not one of El's greatest moments of songcraft. A lot of strange, new sounds regularly leak through the CD cat door — just how many albums have the C*nts made? We get more than our share of musically ho-hum benefit recordings, amateurish anti-Bush anthems, and those almost quaintly, obliviously sexist Ultra dance comps. But the fundraising comp the aforementioned track was drawn from, Unexpected Dreams: Songs from the Stars (Rhino), is oddly, exquisitely ... painful. This showcase of film, TV, and theater actors is almost as cringeworthy as contemputf8g that Tom Cruise DJ set rumor floating round Coachella last weekend.
I suspect Unexpected Dreams' cause is a decent one: Music Matters, a Los Angeles Philharmonic music outreach program for school kids. But I can't imagine inflicting this disc on the youngsters that producers Wayne Baruch, Charles F. Gayton, and "vocal coach to the stars" Eric Vetro supposedly intended it for, although Baruch thoughtfully adds in the liner notes that the creators considered including a sticker saying, "Warning: Parents with children may experience drowsiness; do not operate machinery. For those without children ... this may cause children."
Yuck. Don't get me wrong — I can take the corn, cheese, anything you want to poke in your bowtie-and-top-hat aural burrito. But disregard the vanity backslapping commentary and try to suffer through the actual renditions themselves: They make Shatner's silly spoken-word symphonies look visionary; Lindsey Lohan's pop pachyderms, cerebral; J-Lo's albums, stone-genius.
Oh, the vanity, the vanity of actors who think they're singers. Faring best: Scarlett Johansson singing a smoky blues-jazz version of the Gershwins' "Summertime" (in the CD notes, Vetro claims "lightning struck the room" when Johansson lay into the helpless tune), her Island costar Ewan "O Obi-Wan" McGregor wrapping his Moulin Rouge round Sade's "The Sweetest Gift," and Teri "Close encounters with Desperate Housewives poltergeists" Hatcher's relatively unembellished rendition of Lennon and McCartney's "Goodnight." Hatcher and vocalists like John C. Reilly rate lower on the icko-meter simply by sounding like themselves rather than affected high-school glee club achievers — Alias's Jennifer Garner, for instance, sounds like all the variety show choristers I've been happily not missing since those endless, mind-numbing days of school assemblies. In fact, you can imagine a lot of boys and girls discovering that the "strange new" sounds on this album make them want to trash all their parents' well-meaning children's albums and explore some quality Slayer recordings.
Taraji P. Henson (Hustle and Flow's hook-warbling hooker) does bring some soul to her song — but it'll be hard to pimp tracks by the otherwise fine actor Jeremy Irons, who never should have been allowed to try his all-too-white gimp hand at Bob Dylan's "To Make You Feel My Love" from Time out of Mind. And there are the many others who look at their songs as a license to overemote, like the worst rank–amateur karaoke contestants, in love with the fact that they can even hit the notes. Onetime warrior princess Lucy Lawless bludgeons her quasi-Christian Vetro original. Nia My Big Fat Greek Wedding Vardalos unleashes the feta on an overwrought, taste-free stab at Lennon and McCartney's "Golden Slumbers," and Hairspray's Marissa Jaret Winokur makes one gag with a cloying, faux-childlike Vetro number. "Who wouldn't want Hollywood's biggest stars to sing them to sleep?" the album's press release states. Yeah, I guess that would be all right — but if John Stamos is one of ’Wood's biggest stars, I think Tinseltown is in trouble. Hint: I could be convinced to donate to any cause Rhino chooses, if they just, please, stick to reissues. SFBG
Watch it this time
The budding art star was recently feted in Artforum. Modern Reveries and F-Hole also perform. Wed/3, Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. Call for time and price. (415) 923-0923
What's this about the porn written by one of the he-men in the solid indie-rockin' Herms, here celebrating their CD release? Loquat and the Husbands also perform. Thurs/4, Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell, SF. Call for time and price. (415) 885-0750
The Brooklyn indie-rock romanticists return. Thurs/4, 9 p.m., Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. $12. (415) 621-4455
16 Bitch Pileup
All female, all noise, all hands on deck when the Bay Area band plays with LA's Crom and Goldie winners Total Shutdown. Fri/5, 8 p.m., 924 Gilman, Berk. $6. www.924gilman.org . 16 Bitch Pileup and Crom also play Sat/6, 5 p.m., Elbo Room, 647 Valencia, SF. $6. (415) 552-7788
Soulful vocals meet aggro rock. Play nice. Boyjazz and Turn Me on Deadman also perform. Fri/5, 10 p.m., Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. $10. (415) 621-4455. Also Sat/6, 2 p.m., Amoeba Music, 1855 Haight, SF. Free. (415) 831-1200
The Southerners set up camp with Son Volt. Fri/5–Sat/6, 9 p.m., Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. $28.50. (415) 421-TIXS or (415) 346-6000
The Guided by Voices guitarist took his time, getting last year's addictive solo release out in front of breathing humanoids. Richard Buckner also plays. Sat/6, 9 p.m., Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. $13–$15. (415) 621-4455
The buzz band was no secret at SXSW. Sat/6, 8:30 p.m., Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. $20. (415) 771-1421
Blood on the Wall
Flannel, ’80s art rock, and a certain groove. Physic Ills and the Death of a Party open. Mon/8, 9 p.m., Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. $8. (415) 621-4455
The English duo dig into T-Rex–drenched electro with Supernature (Mute). Mon/8, 8 p.m. Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. $22.50. (415) 421-TIXS or (415) 346-6000
Your indie-pop hop happens with Dios and Octopus Project. Tues/9, 9 p.m., Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. $8–$10. (415) 621-4455 SFBG