Archive for November, 2010

Blog on vacation for a week

Posted: November 27, 2010 in Odds and Sods

I will be out of the country for the next week, as my wife and I are headed to Cozumel for a much-needed vacation. Hopefully, the Knicks continue their winning ways while I’m gone. Also keeping my fingers crossed for Bloomsburg tomorrow in their rematch with Mercyhurst in the Division II playoffs. Then there’s the MASH unit Giants, who look less and less like a playoff team with each passing week. At least I get to miss their game. That’s all for now, see you all next week!

Say what you want about Kanye West, but he’s far from boring or predictable.
His super-inflated ego is both a gift and a curse, pushing him to strive for perfection in his art but often blinding him from reality or any sense of decorum. He often spouts off like a petulant child on Twitter, ripping into anyone who dare has something negative to say about him. He storms award shows and yanks trophies from rising starlets’ hands, and then claims to be misunderstood later on. He apologizes for his acts, then retracts the apologies. He seems to care a great deal about the human condition and often writes spiritual songs referencing Jesus, yet can’t relate to people very well.
All of this and more make West one of the more compelling musical figures of the last decade, if not the most. And with his latest release, the sprawling, brilliant My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, West has all sides of his personality on display, both in his lyrics and the painstakingly crafted music.
You can tell West wanted to hit a home run here, and he delivers a grand slam of stylistic detours and grand gestures.
He brings in a virtual who’s who of popular music in as guests, including mentors Jay-Z and the RZA, newcomers Nikki Minaj and Drake, soul singers like John Legend, leading lady megastars Rihanna and Fergie, and Rock N Roll Hall of Famer Elton John. And those are just naming a few.
On one track alone (All of the Lights), 42 guest musicians/singers appear, and while the song has layers upon layers, it works beautifully.
Kanye, while still not the best MC on the planet, has improved with each release and his production mastery is now legendary.
He wanted a grandiose statement, something that could help describe his complex and contradictory personality to the masses. So what you get is a concept album dealing with his innermost desires and fears mixed with the usual bravado one routinely finds on rap albums.
The difference between Kanye and many other MCs (other than his innate musical and production gifts) is the genuine belief that what he’s saying is coming from the heart.
The album’s masterpiece “Runaway” is a nine-minute voyage of heartache and self-loathing, as the “douche bags, assholes and jerk-offs” he’s toasting represent what many Americans feel about him after the Taylor Swift fiasco. The track starts with a single piano key (much like Pink Floyd’s classic epic Echoes) and then evolves into a solemn ballad before taking a detour near the six-minute mark where it becomes a rap symphony, where the only words Kanye says are filtered through a vocoder and guitar, only becoming decipherable at the very end of the track. It’s mesmerizing and sends chills down the spine with its emotional undercurrent.
Another highlight is “Monster”, where Jay-Z and Minaj turn in awesome guest verses over a bass-heavy beat that shook my rear-view mirror in my car as I played it.
Lead single “Power” brilliantly samples King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” and is another track dealing with West’s titanic ego yet fragile persona, as the very end West sings of a “beautiful death” and “jumping out the window.”
“Devil With a New Dress” easily could have come off The College Dropout or Late Registration with its gorgeous old-school soul feel.
The last two tracks “Lost in the World” and “Who Will Survive in America” paint West’s picture of alienation well. And while the beat and melody of “World” is tremendous, the message paints a stark reality of American life today.
This “Fantasy” is the real work of a tortured genius at the top of his game, as West redeems himself from the Autotuned to death “808s and Heartbreak”. It consolidates his strengths wonderfully, and leaves the listener wondering what he’ll come up with next.

Sod rating: *****

Kanye West discography
The College Dropout (2004) **** 1/2
Late Registration (2005) **** 1/2
Graduation (2007) ****
808s and Heartbreak (2008) ** 1/2

Ratings system
***** A classic
**** Excellent
*** Solid
** A good song or two
* A movie starring Alan Thicke, Pauly Shore and Charles Grodin would be a better use of your time

Knicks 99, Bobcats 95

Posted: November 24, 2010 in Knicks

Raymond Felton burned his old team for 23 points and 13 assists.

Say it with me, folks. The New York Knicks are on fire. I have to keep repeating it to myself, because there haven’t been many instances where you could make that statement in say, the last 10 years.
The Knicks have rebounded nicely from a putrid six-game losing streak to win their fifth in a row, topping Charlotte 99-95 tonight in the second of a home-and-home series.
For the second straight night, the Knicks surged to a double-digit second-half lead on Charlotte, only to see the lead evaporate in the fourth. But unlike earlier games this season, the Knicks didn’t falter when late adversity hit them.
After the Bobcats took the lead on a Tyrus Thomas three-point play with less than two minutes to go, the Knicks took control down the stretch with some big free throws and key defensive stops and rebounds.
Raymond Felton continues to shine, scoring a team-leading 23 points and adding 13 assists. He was already averaging more than 17 points and close to 8 assists per game, so those numbers will go up a bit. Wilson Chandler filled the role played by Toney Douglas last night as the spark off the bench, scoring 21 points and pulling down eight boards. Amar’e Stoudemire added 20 points and six blocks, while the rookie Landry Fields had another solid outing with eight points, 10 rebounds and a pair of steals.
The Knicks are back at .500 at 8-8. And what’s better, LeCon James, Chris Soft and the reeling Heat lost another one tonight to the Magic. They’re now 8-7 and while I expect them to get it going soon (probably after Pat Riley saunters down from the front office to coach), I’m loving their struggles right now.
New York is back at home Saturday to host the Atlanta Hawks. Hopefully, they can make it six in a row and move over .500 for the first time since they were 3-2 early on.

Knicks win fourth straight

Posted: November 24, 2010 in Knicks

Toney Douglas led a balanced scoring effort with 22 points.

When I last posted on the Knicks, they were in the throes of a six-game losing streak, looking much like the team we’ve seen for a better part of a decade. As much as I ripped Mike D’Antoni in my last post, I have to give him some credit now as the Knicks have reeled off four straight wins, including tonight’s 110-107 victory at the Garden over the Charlotte Bobcats.

For the most part, D’Antoni has scrapped the pick and roll plays because point guard Raymond Felton (more of a combo guard) just isn’t that good at it. The team has gone to a more cutting and slashing approach, still kicking out for threes but getting to the line much more frequently.

The Knicks had six players in double figures tonight, led by Toney Douglas’ 22 points off the bench. Felton, who exploded for a 35-point effort on the West Coast swing, continues to play well with 16 points and nine assists tonight. Amar’e Stoudemire (17), Danilo Gallinari (16), Landry Fields (14) and Ronny Turiaf (12) were the others in double figures.

I love Turiaf’s energy and defensive prowess, they really missed him when he was out for a bulk of the losing streak. While Fields isn’t flashy, he does a lot of things well and was a great find by Donnie Walsh in the second round of this year’s draft.

The Knicks are now 7-8, or 1 1/2 games worse than the Dream Team, aka Miami Heat. They get another crack at the Bobcats tonight on the road in the second of a home and home series. Hopefully by this time tomorrow night, the Knicks will be back at .500 for the first time since they were 3-3.

HoJo out as Mets hitting coach

Posted: November 23, 2010 in Mets

Mets general manager Sandy Alderson announced Howard Johnson will no longer be the Mets’ hitting coach. Anyone who has ever read this blog or talked to me about the Mets know I’ve been wanting this to happen for the better part of two years.
HoJo seems like a nice guy, and he had great moments as a Mets player, but he was in over his head as hitting coach.
The main reason I wanted HoJo gone lies with All-Star David Wright. HoJo and Wright were extremely close, and while I can’t blame the coach fully for all the bad habits and tendencies David has picked up the last three years, he certainly deserves his share of the burden.
Wright has regressed, or at the very best, plateaued under Johnson. Once a complete hitter who used all fields, Wright has become more of an all or nothing slugger, with his strikeouts piling up as his average came down.
In one of Wright’s now patented prolonged slumps last year, he was standing so far from the plate, he couldn’t reach the outside pitch if he was swinging a Redwood tree, let alone a standard baseball bat. I saw it, Mets TV broadcasters saw it, other loyal Mets fans saw it, yet nothing was done to bring him closer. About a month or two later, Wright moved closer to the plate and like magic, began to hit the ball to the opposite field with authority again.
Alderson said HoJo will be reassigned to another position, and as a guy who has paid his dues both as a player and coach, that’s good. Maybe he should be a first or third base coach in the minors, or manage one of the lower-level teams. Just can’t have him as the Mets’ hitting coach.

T-minus 4 days until Cozumel

Posted: November 23, 2010 in Odds and Sods

Don’t want to rub it in, just had to find a subject to post from my yahoo mail. Finally figured how to post to my blog from e-mail, so it’s my new little revelation for the day.

Anyway, my wife and I are heading to Cozumel early Saturday morning. Tina has been there several times with her good friend Donna from Michigan, but this is my virgin voyage, so to speak. Looking forward to a week of fun in the sun and some of the best snorkeling in the world (ranking just behind Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, or so I’m told). Also going to swim with dolphins, something I’ve always thought would be cool.

So, the blog will be inactive for a week or so, starting Saturday. I know all of you are crushed, but please find a way to survive without my brilliant ramblings. It’ll be tough, but you can do it. 🙂

Mets announce hiring of Terry Collins

Posted: November 22, 2010 in Mets

Following weeks of speculation and interviews, the Mets are going with former Angels and Astros manager Terry Collins to replace Jerry Manuel.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t that excited about Collins, given his so-so track record (just above .500 career) and the way things deteriorated in Anaheim, when the Angels basically staged a mutiny during a nine-game losing streak.

The more I read about Collins, the more I like the hiring. The Mets’ minor-league coordinator last year, Collins has gotten rave reviews from players like Josh Thole and Dillon Gee, who say he’s very intense about things being done the right way, yet also a guy who can keep you loose with jokes around the batting case. Thole was in an awful slump the first month of the season at AAA Buffalo, but a visit from Collins helped calm him down and he turned things around, eventually earning the Mets’ starting catcher gig late in the year.

Former Angels outfielder Tim Salmon also had great things to say about Collins, saying he was very thorough and adamant about things being done the right away and players being held accountable. Manuel was simply too soft, too nice of a guy to really force any type of culture change in the clubhouse, which is what is needed at this point.

Getting back to Salmon’s comments, he implied Collins’ ultimate demise had a lot to do with Mo “Can’t Believe I Just Ate Australia” Vaughn, a “new-school” player, as relayed by Salmon. Sounds like Big Mo and a few others didn’t like to be criticized or informed they were doing something wrong (like eating the entire postgame buffet table).

Former Phillie player and manager (also a Met for a couple weeks in 1985) Larry Bowa applauded the hiring, saying Collins will bring structure to the Mets, something they have been lacking for far too long.

I won’t lie, I was hoping Wally Backman got the job. But that’s probably just my blind love for all things ’86 Mets. I do hope Backman stays in the organization, and I’ve read he may be offered the Single-A St. Lucie job or AA Binghamton gig. I’m hoping it’s St. Lucie, mainly because I live in Florida and get to see the St. Lucie Mets play.

General manager Sandy Alderson has a vision for this team, one that will likely take a few years to realize. He and cohorts Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi are going to rebuild this organization from the bottom up, starting with overhauling the minor-league system. Successful teams are built from within these days. You see less and less success from bringing in renegade free agents and hoping they mesh with what you already have. I’m hoping we see a much better brand of baseball in the coming years, but just about anything will be an improvement over the last two years of the Omar Minaya regime. The bar has been set pretty low.