Pokemon Review #48: Venonat

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And continuing this super positive streak, here’s yet another Pokemon I really like. Sometimes I feel like I’m too lenient, but oh well. I prefer being positive rather than negative. And I just can’t bring myself to hate the little critter.

Once again, we get another demonstration that a good color scheme can go a long way. And in this case, the purple and red really complement each other well. I also love how he’s basically just an adorable little fuzz ball. He’s something I want to hug and protect at all costs. It helps him stand out among other Bug Pokemon.

I just can’t help it guys. You might be getting tired of all the unabashed positivity, but I just love Venonat, okay? He’s cute and unique and he’d make a great pet. He was also the intended pre-evolution for Butterfree, but we won’t dwell on that.

Grade: A+

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Album Review: Weezer- Pinkerton

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I couldn’t review the Blue Album without writing about the other half of one of the most essential rock duologies of the ’90s. While a lot of people never saw Weezer’s mainstream success coming, their self titled debut inexplicably became an overnight sensation, and this motley crew of lame-o dorks became unlikely rock stars. Naturally, they would begin work on a followup to this monumental icon, a tall order to be sure. Though Pinkerton has received an inordinate amount of adoration over the years, thing weren’t always so smooth for this late bloomer masterpiece. In its own time, this was the textbook definition of the infamous difficult sophomore record.

After the success of the Blue Album, Weezer went into the studio to begin work on their followup. Rivers had a vision to create a sprawling rock opera concept album with a sci-fi narrative about troubled relationships and disillusionment with the rock star lifestyle. Titled Songs From The Black Hole, the ill fated project was to feature six vocalists playing the part of six different characters. While it was certainly an ambitious concept, it was not to be. Plans changed, and what we got instead was a darker successor to an iconic ’90s album.

Around the time of recording SFTBH, Rivers underwent extensive surgery to lengthen one of his legs, as he was born with one leg shorter than the other. This led to many hospitalizations where he was treated with painkillers. The severe pain he was enduring had an adverse effect on his songwriting. Around the same time, he decided to enroll in Harvard University. College life wasn’t always a pleasant experience for him. He began to feel completely alone and grew increasingly bitter. All of a sudden, the rock opera concept seemed too whimsical to Rivers, and he was determined to craft a more abrasive confessional album. And thus, SFTBH would slowly morph into the album that would become Pinkerton.

When the album was first released, it wasn’t hailed as the seminal record it is today. The reaction was highly polarizing to say the least. It turned off many fans and critics with its noisier sonic texture and emotionally honest oversharing. What they wanted was more of the geeky charm and polished pop sheen of the Blue Album, but instead got a rawer affair with more bitter, even embarrassing lyrics. It was voted third worst album of 1996 by readers of Rolling Stone magazine, critics gave it mixed reviews, and it was a commercial disappointment, peaking at #19 on the billboard charts and not achieving platinum status until two decades after the fact. Even Rivers distanced himself from the album, seeing it as embarassing and shying away from playing the songs live before eventually coming around.

Over time though, the album’s reputation would grow in stature. It connected with an entire generation of forlorn youth who could relate to the candid honesty of the album. It paved the way for a new wave of emo pop and would continue to receive more love as the years passed by. It is now considered a high watermark in the ’90s rock canon, and is today regularly placed on “best of” lists. While it still has some dissenters, it is now beloved by the vast majority of Weezer fans. Even Rivers himself grew to love it, and has since stated that he is proud of what the band achieved with their work. So what do I think of Pinkerton?

Let me just dispel something right off the bat. Contrary to popular opinion, this is not as radical a departure from the Blue Album as people love to claim. While it is certainly different, it’s not like it’s a harsh noise rock record that sounds like it was made by a completely different band. The album does have a gritty, unrefined nature, but it is still a power pop album through and through. It still contains plenty of the sheer melodicism and catchy hooks of it’s predecessor, just with an unpolished veneer. In fact, it holds some of the most hummable melodies and contagious singalongs of Weezer’s career.

The rawer feel this time around works in the album’s favor. Looking to recreate the essence of their live performances, Weezer decided to record the album themselves. This serves to create a looser energy and gives it a sloppy edge that the Blue Album didn’t have. The scuzzy lower budget aesthetic and raw, rough around the edges imperfections give it a frailty that makes it feel more human. The noisy production compounded with the frustrated introspective lyrics succeeds in creating a powerful, touching dynamic. The noisy production combined with the pop songwriting makes for a beautiful chaos.

While the production was more raw and the playing more sloppy, Pinkerton still contains some of the finest instrumentation of Weezer’s entire catalog. Rivers, a former metal guitarist before Weezer, seemed determined to showcase his shredding capabilities with blistering, high octane guitar solos in songs like “Tired Of Sex” and “Why Bother.” Drummer Pat Wilson pounds harder than ever, and his cymbal work in particular is worthy of praise. Matt sharp contributes some of his finest basslines, making the resulting tone more bottom heavy than ever before. The interplay between Rivers Cuomo and rhythm guitarist Brian Bell is more focused than ever, and the album features some of their most complex tracks to date. Of particular note is “Falling For You,” which they’ve gone on record as stating that it’s one of their most difficult songs to perform live.

Luckily, Pinkerton contains some of Weezer’s best ever songs. They’re also surprisingly diverse. The album opens with “Tired Of Sex,” one of the most abrasive songs of their career, complemented by a riotous squall of feedback and low budget keyboard. This is followed by the downtuned “Getchoo,” a destructive force that stands as one of their heaviest songs. Proving they aren’t just one trick ponies, they close the album with the acoustic ballad “Butterfly,” arguably the most tender they would ever get. There are numerous key changes throughout, and “No Other One” employs a waltz-like 3/4 rhythm. “Across The Sea” features subtle piano playing, and I dare anyone not to hum along to infectious tracks like “El Scorcho,” “Why Bother,” and “The Good Life.” Their influence from indie forefathers like the Pixies is more evident than ever, the guitars have a satisfying crunch, and they still have a knack for delicious pop hooks.

I think the deluxe edition of this gem deserves special mention. It’s jam packed with live performances, acoustic sets, alternate/demo takes, and even a snippet from a radio interview with a confused fan. But what really takes the deluxe version to the next level is the nine bonus tracks that are included, making this two disc set the definitive edition of the already classic album. These include b-sides, songs originally intended for Songs From The Black Hole, and tracks that were previously unreleased.

These songs are now among my personal favorite Weezer songs to exist. As an example, “You Gave Your Love To Me Softly” is an energetic, longing, and gleeful rollercoaster ride about a one night stand in under two minutes. “I Just Threw Out The Love Of My Dreams”, a keyboard heavy number, is unique in that if features vocals from Rachel Haden of That Dog, the only SFTBH song to go through with the concept of different singers portraying different characters. “I Swear It’s True” is a hazy drug trip with the crunchiest riffs this side of the cereal isle. “Longtime Sunshine” is a soothing pining for the simple life. “Getting Up And Leaving” with its sun soaked melodies and vocal harmonies is arguably the closest to the Beach Boys they’ve ever gotten. “Tragic Girl” was unrecorded until the deluxe edition, and is one of the most beautiful songs from the band. “You Won’t Get With Me Tonight” is insanely catchy and the keyboard solo is sublime. Devotion is a slow waltz with the addition of church. One of my favorites, “Waiting On You,” is a scuzzy yet shimmering number about not being able to get over your ex.

This time around, the album takes on a more bitter and reflective stance. Rivers sings about his emotional issues and low self-esteem in a more direct manner than on the Blue Album. Subject matter here includes his inability to talk to girls (“El Scorcho”), not even attempting a relationship due to being hurt in the past (“Why Bother”), and turning the rock and roll groupie cliche on its head and desiring something real over casual hookups (“Tired Of Sex”). Rivers was expressing all his frustrations and fears, and he does so in a blunt fashion. He pulls no punches about his inner turmoil, and the album is littered with dark undertones. You can practically feel Rivers’ pain and anguish in his voice. Even the “happiest” song on the album, “Falling For You,” displays him getting the girl, but of course, he’s so insecure he ponders over why she would want anything to do with him.

Despite the legendary status the album now enjoys, it still has its fair share of detractors. Some will criticize it for what they perceive as embarrassing lyrics. And to be fair, the subject matter can be very awkward. Hearing Rivers obsess over a barely legal high school girl to the point of wondering what clothes she wears and whether she masturbates while thinking about him (“Across The Sea”) is unnervingly creepy, and he comes off as a stalker. Listening to him wish a lesbian he’s got a thing for was straight will likely make you cringe. His Japanese fetish is odd. In “El Scorcho,” he recounts breaking into a girl’s room and reading her diary. This is all unsettling, and more than a little toxic.

But to be completely honest, that’s part of what I love about this album. It can get very uncomfortable, but the unflinching, self aware honesty is refreshing. The unabashed confessional nature of the album takes no compromises, and as a result, feels much more personal than many albums of its breed. We all have those uneasy thoughts we just keep to ourselves. We would never tell anyone out of fear of embarrassment. That Rivers was able to be completely sincere and spill his guts in such a candid manner is admirable, however uncomfortable the lyrics can get. It’s almost as if you’re listening to someone’s personal diary, reading every private thought most people would keep secret.

It’s no surprise that Pinkerton was such a cornerstone of the emo movement. Its brutal honesty connected with generations of despondent youth who wore their hearts on their sleeves. It’s tough to imagine third wave bands like Saves The Day, the Get Up Kids, Jimmy Eat World, or My Chemical Romance existing without Pinkerton moving the genre in a more pop direction. While it was a flop in its own time, over the years, many would relate to its themes of insecurity, bitterness, and low self esteem, myself included. Its portrayal of failed relationships was among the most candid in rock history up to that point. Combined with its delicious pop coating and rough (some would say more natural sounding) production, it’s easy to see why it’s hailed as such a masterpiece. Personally, this is my favorite album of all time.

Pokemon Review #47: Parasect

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This has to be one of the most underappreciated Pokemon of all time. People don’t really talk about Parasect that much, and when they do, they usually have middling or negative opinions. But to be honest, I really love this dude. He takes everything I like about Paras, and goes all the way with it.

He’s far creepier this time around. The parasitic mushrooms growing on his back have completely taken over his mind and body. His body is now just a lifeless husk, a mere puppet to the deadly fungus. His blank, dead eyes reflect that. He still has those weird legs, and some cool crab claws to boot.

Yeah, his stats still suck this time around, but I won’t hold that against him. He’s a great Pokemon through and through. He looks completely unsettling, and he’s very unique amongst 1st gen Bug Pokemon. Really, the only thing that could make him better would be a secondary Ghost typing.

Grade: A+

Pokemon Review #46: Paras

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You know, a lot of people seem to hate Paras, but I actually like the little guy. Sure, he has garbage stats, but he is aesthetically pleasing. He’s not one of my all time favorites, but he has some redeeming qualities. He’s a bit underrated if you ask me.

Those big eyes of his make him totally adorable. But he’s also a bit creepy, what with those weird legs and all. And that maw is the stuff of nightmares. The mushrooms on his back are also a nice touch, setting him apart from other Bug Pokemon.

And he has a tragic backstory. He’s actually based on a real world phenomenon. You see, in real life, there are parasitic fungi that attach themselves to ants, controlling them and basically turning them into zombies. This poor little guy is living a life of torturous agony, destined to be consumed by those mushrooms. Overall, Paras is a good Pokemon that doesn’t deserve the hate or apathy.

Grade: B+

Pokemon Review #45: Vileplume

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Okay, now we’re talking. While I liked Gloom, she was kind of a step down from the amazing Oddish. But Vileplume is here to get us back on track and be totally awesome. This is my personal favorite of the Oddish line.

Gloom took a pretty big detour in its design, but Vileplume takes us back to basics with a design more reminiscent of Oddish. This is great, because that design is totally adorable. She’s got badass red eyes and a highly toxic rafflesia flower that she stylishly wears like a hat. She manages to be cute and totally cool at the same time.

So yeah, here’s another Pokemon I love. She’s one of the most memorable grass types of the first generation. She may be an elegant queen, but she will still wreck your shit and beat you down. Then you’ll cry like a little bitch for getting your ass kicked by a flower. But hey, that’s just who she is.

Grade: A+

Update And Plans For The Future

Oh wow, I’ve actually been doing a good job of providing content for this little pop culture website. I never would have thought it a few months ago, but I recently rediscovered my passion for writing and I’ve been having a blast writing these articles for you guys. Like I’ve stated previously, I won’t make any promises, but I love being back in the game, and I have a few plans for Happy Katana.

  • More Pokemon reviews. Super predictable, but these aren’t going away anytime soon.
  • I am currently working on a ranking of Super Mario 64 courses from least favorite to favorite. Mario 64 is my all time favorite game, and I’ve always wanted to talk in depth about it.
  • Speaking of video games, remember that GameCube tribute I wrote a few years ago? The one I never finished? Well, going back to it today is incredibly embarrasing. I was a very mediocre writer back in those days, so I’d just like to start from scratch and reboot the whole thing. My writing has improved tremendously with experience, and I feel like I could really do the Purple Lunchbox justice with a clean slate.
  • You’re going to be seeing a lot more album reviews in the future. These are the articles I have the most fun writing, and I feel as if I’m at my best writing about music. I will start working on a review of Weezer’s Pinkerton very shortly, and there will be many more in the future. I would also like to eventually write some music related lists. And I plan on putting forth a defense of mumble rap and why it’s not as bad as some people feel. Obnoxious boomer oldheads can fuck off.

Anyways, thank you for checking in and staying with Happy Katana through all these turbulent and often barren times. Thankfully, I’ve found my love for writing again and plan on giving you a lot more content in the future.

Pokemon Review #44: Gloom

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Okay, so I don’t like this one as much as Oddish, and I also prefer its evolution. We have yet another case of Middle Stage Evolution Disorder. But to tell you the truth, I don’t hate it as much as some people. I do genuinely like her, and she has a cool name.

Let me just say that I fully believe Gloom has some major down syndrome going on. Just look at her drooling everywhere and eating glue. Or perhaps, as stated by NAPACE, she’s simply under the effects of some hallucinogens, with those closed eyes and drug induced stupor. Don’t worry Gloom, you’ll catch that flying giraffe eventually.

So yeah, Gloom might look severely retarded and have the ugliest lips this side of Jynx, but that mental deficiency is part of her charm. I’m rooting for you, sweetie! She also looks quite convincing as a poisonous flower. Really, she’s a pretty good Pokemon when all is said and done.

Grade: B

Album Review: Weezer- The Blue Album

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When Weezer burst onto the alternative scene in the early ’90s, their geeky brand of classic rock influenced power pop confounded audiences. Crowds they would play in front of gave them little to no reaction, and in fact only 90 copies of their debut were sold in the first week of release. The simple truth of the matter was that rock fans of the time wanted more cynical pessimistic grunge with dirty, noisy hooks. The kind of goofy introspection and melodic pop glossiness that Weezer was pushing was considered lame and embarrassing. Continue reading

Pokemon Review #43: Oddish

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Here’s another Pokemon I totally love. It’s a fine example of an incredibly simplistic design that just works. You don’t need to be wacky. You don’t need to be balls to the wall insane. You don’t even need to be Heinz 57 varieties of badass. All you need to be cool is to be a little walking plant thing.

Oddish is just so goddamn adorable. She just seems so happy to see you. It’s okay Oddish, I’m pleased as punch to see you as well. You’re just so precious, and that leaf hair you got going on is stylish as can be. Don’t let anybody bring you down.

Basically, Oddish is a good girl who needs to be protected at all costs. I’m being completely serious. If I find out you’ve been giving her a hard time, I will fucking kill you. And not in your sleep either, because I want you to realize your mistake before you die.

Grade: A+

Pokemon Review #42: Golbat

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Now this one I really like. He’s an ugly son of a bitch, but he’s so endearing I won’t hold that against him. He’s just unabashedly goofy in every conceivable way, I can’t help but love the guy.

I love how they kept that pimping blue and purple color scheme. That was Zubat’s only mildly redeeming quality. I love the weird ass feet they added to those weird ass legs. I love those little cat ears that make no sense on a bat. I love how pissed off he is. And I especially love his gaping mouth that swallows the souls of all who cross his path.

Golbat is just one bizarre creature. He spits in the face of normalcy, and he’s freaking great because of it. I truly love this strange little dude. If you needed any reason to catch the pitiable Zubat, this is the excuse you’ve been looking for.

Grade: A+