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For the thousands of fans who are already familiar with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the act of poring over the completed album package will enrich the experience of the music. On the coated paper of its package, the album reads like an epic poem; in the grooves, it’s a desperate SOS.
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The Jell-o's Jigglin', the Butter's Coolin', the Eggs Are Gettin' Hard
Yeah, baby, here comes the best time of the year since the last best time of the year. We’re referring, of course, to the NBA Playoffs, which start this weekend—initiating six thrill-packed weeks of the most highly skilled athleticism and the best edge-of-your-seat drama of any team sport. In the hothouse atmosphere of the playoffs, the unbeatable combo of tight choreography and anything-goes improvisation takes on added resonance, and it wouldn’t be overstating the case to call hoops at the jaw-dropping level of the later rounds a true art form. Word. This rite of spring, then, is the top pick in our new weekly picks section, immediately below, which we offer as a sort of HITS List for your downtime. If you don’t like basketball, we pity you, but we do have several other recommendations, one of which doesn’t involve any balls whatsoever (see #8)…

WEAKEND POPCULT TOP 10
1. NBA Playoffs (TNT, NBC): Eight games this weekend, followed by games every weeknight till the first set of losers is vanquished. In terms of sheer wall-to-wall sneaker squeaking, it doesn’t get any better than the opening best-of-five first round.

2. Prince at the Kodak Theatre: He doesn’t sell records like he once did, and many feel he doesn’t make records like he once did, either. But the man-child has few if any equals as a live performer (can we get a witness for the right Rev. Al Green?). This is one ducat that may actually be worth the $150 price of admission. Friday and Saturday.

3. Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch): Rolling Stone says it’s the year’s first great album; we say it ain’t chopped liver—or Trout Mask Replica, for that matter. See Scoppa’s mini-exegesis immediately below.


4. Six Feet Under (HBO): Isn’t it ironic? Alan Ball's mortuary drama continues to be the liveliest hour on TV. Who knew funeral directors got so much nookie?


5. CAA Golf Tournament: It’s at La Costa, and everybody who’s anybody will be there, says Lenny Beer, who won’t be there.

 

6. The Osbournes (MTV): The cable channel’s Surreal World rocks on, to soaring ratings. It's times like these when you feel really, really bad for Ronnie James Dio.

7. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2002 (EA Sports): He just won his third Masters, and he’s got a golf video game for PS2 that’s even better than he is, if such a thing is possible. Ah, to be young and the master of a multimillion-dollar empire.

8. Kissing Jessica Stein: Girl-on-girl romance, cosmopolitan wit and lots and lots of Jewish jokes. What more do you want?

9. "Ironjack" lumberjack competition (Outdoor Life Network): Sure, it's a 1999 re-broadcast, but as timber sports go, this one’s hard to beat. Favorite event: Springboard chop.

10. That Mitsubishi spot: We just can't take our eyes off that exhibitionistic, snap-brim-cap-wearing hottie, who does the Salome robot arm dance as she rides shotgun, with untold intrigue implied below eye level, in the sweet spot of her bucket seat. One thing's for sure: Dirty Vegas owes her big time. 

LEARNING TO FOXTROT
The Story So Far:
No doubt about it, the perception that Wilco is America’s Radiohead—aesthetically rarefied and endlessly audacious—is strengthened by the band’s fourth album. The big difference between Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and the comparably challenging Kid A isn’t artistic, however, but commercial: Wilco is not following up a hit, and its new album has no chance of debuting at #1. With that in mind, it’s hardly a stretch to speculate that Foxtrot was distinctly not the record that certain high-ranking officials in Burbank had hoped for from this prestigious but increasingly esoteric band—one that could no longer reasonably be viewed as being just a hit away from mainstream success.

The Second Act: Considering Jeff Tweedy’s current direction, the choice of Nonesuch as Wilco’s new safe house seems ideal. The prestige factor takes on added resonance in the context of this hip and aesthetically refined label, and commercial pressure on the band is lessened, just as the sudden voraciousness of the discerning adult audience suggests a more gratifying best-case scenario than could have possibly been anticipated when the album was delivered to Reprise in mid-2001. The unmentioned key to the decision, however, may well be the continuation of Wilco’s longstanding status as the darlings of the WEA field staff—even if Tweedy’s tendency to fire one bandmate after another suggests a somewhat less sunny disposition than he seemed to radiate in the band’s early days. All that, plus he and surviving original bandmate John Stirrat are no longer buried in the deep hole of nonrecoupment. As manager Tony Margherita told the L.A. TimesRichard Cromelin, “We got what we wanted." No doubt.

The Single: The ads identify “Heavy Metal Drummer” as the album’s first emphasis track. In the unlikely event that it gets significant airplay on commercial radio, the song is sure to be perceived as a novelty—a whimsical trinket readymade for the soundtrack of Malcolm in the Middle. In the context of the album, though, ”Drummer” functions not as comic relief but as a vision of something that has been lost—a vision that is central to this album’s dramatic payload. “I miss the innocence I’ve known,” Tweedy sings in its key lines, “playing Kiss covers, beautiful and stoned.” 

The Package: For the thousands of fans who are already familiar with these songs, the act of poring over the completed album package, with its handsome minimalist design by Lawrence Azerrad, will enrich the experience of the music; it certainly has for me. Sam Jones’ eerie photos of Chicago cityscapes, with not a soul in sight, make for a powerful visual complement to Tweedy’s lyrics, which scan as impressively in this pristine setting as they sound amid the sonic debris of the record. Every one of these 11 songs contains a phrase that advances the bitter storyline with absolute clarity, from the establishing “What was I thinking when I let go of you?” (“I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”) and “No, it’s not ok.” (“Kamera”) to the concluding “I’ve got reservations about so many things, but not about you” (“Reservations”). On coated paper, it’s an epic poem; in the grooves, it’s a desperate SOS.

The Music: Together, the spooked, fractured narrative and the clattering, claustrophobic music indicate, obliquely but unmistakably, that something is broken, or about to break—a psyche, a relationship, a belief system, a heart or two. At first, the album’s roiling torment forms a barrier to conventional appreciation, but over time it leads the listener toward openings in its gnarly, rusted-out surface, revealing a bleak but breathtaking subterranean beauty. At its lacerated core are Tweedy’s graceful melodies and starkly intimate language, his aching, fallen angel’s voice and withering candor. Once you get inside, you can’t help but believe this guy, to feel what he’s feeling. Easy listening it ain’t. On the other hand, music this adventurous and arresting doesn’t grow on fake plastic trees. But no, it’s not ok. Not by a long shot. Bud Scoppa

A LITTLE TRAVELING MUSIC
Bandits (MGM DVD/Columbia-Sony Music Soundtrax): Barry Levinson
’s buddy-buddy-plus-one road comedy about a pair of irresistible bank robbers and the kooky woman they meet along the way is breezy enough, with performances to match by Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton and Cate Blanchett. But the true allure of this DVD is experiencing the movie’s eclectic soundtrack in the comfort of your own 5.1 Sensurround home theater, with U2’s "Beautiful Day" providing an upward jolt of energy whenever it punctuates the proceedings. And while that track isn’t on the soundtrack album, there are still plenty of tunes that manage to make the movie more than the sum of its dramatic parts. Bob Dylan’s "Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum" sets the pace with its description of its two deceptively hapless leads, while Bonnie Tyler’s "Total Eclipse of the Heart" plays a crucial plot point in the burgeoning relationship between Willis and Blanchett. There are also superb uses of label newcomers Pete Yorn ("Just Another") and Five for Fighting ("Superman [It’s Not Easy])," along with a hilarious scene in which Billy Bob plays Bill Withers/Grover Washington Jr.’s "Just the Two of Us" on the jukebox because he’s "compelled to press 1-A." All in all, it’s one of those happy instances where the music isn’t merely shoehorned into a film but actually comments on the action and motivations of the character, not to mention giving each scene a kinetic injection. Credit is due to music producers Joel Sill and Allan Mason. When music and film work together like this, it truly is a beautiful day. —Roy Trakin

TRAKIN’S PICKS TO FLICK
The Scorpion King
(Universal):
The thespian formerly known as Duane Johnson—allowed to use his nom de wrassling The Rock, thanks to WWF macher Vince McMahon’s executive-producer credit—reprises his role from The Mummy Returns in this special-effects spectacular from director Chuck Russell of The Mask fame. The plot revolves around the title character’s attempt to defeat an evil conqueror (Steven Brand), win the heart of his sorceress (Kelly Hu) and earn his royal rank by battling fellow steroid casuality Michael Clarke Duncan—last seen as one of the warrior gorillas in Planet of the Apes. The film is backed by the metallic crunch of the Universal/UMG soundtrack, which features Godsmack (who have the first single/video, “I Stand Alone”), P.O.D., Drowning Pool, System of a Down, Creed, Nickelback, Hoobastank, Rob Zombie/Ozzy Osbourne, Sevendust and Coal Chamber, among others. The website, www.the-scorpion-king.com, offers the requisite bells and whistles, accompanied by a rumbling soundtrack, offering fans the chance to choose a character and battle through different games, go behind the scenes of the production, and download e-cards and a Windows Media skin.

Murder by Numbers (Warner Bros.): Sandra Bullock’s an FBI profiler/homicide detective—OK, stop laughing—in this psychological suspense-thriller. Two malevolent geniuses (think Leopold and Loeb of Compulsion and Hitchcock’s Rope) played by Ryan Gosling (Remember the Titans) and Michael Pitt (rock star Tommy Gnosis in Hedwig) challenge her and partner Ben Chaplin (The Truth About Cats and Dogs) to a deadly battle of wits in order to solve a murder case. The plot sounds kinda pedestrian, and it’s more than reminiscent of David Fincher’s gruesome Se7en, but director Barbet Schroeder has worked this turf before, most notably in Single White Female and the Claus von Bulow story Reversal of Fortune. The website, www.murderbynumbersmovie.com, offers a suitably creepy rundown, by the numbers, natch, with info about cast and crew, a trailer, a case file, downloads, stills, anatomy of the crime scene, etc.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (IFC Films): Yet another odd-couple marriage movie, this one scripted by Greek writer Nia Vardalos from her solo monologue. Vardalos also stars as the bride-to-be who shocks her family by deciding to hook up with decidedly non-Greek trophy fiancee John Corbett (of Sex & the City and Northern Exposure fame). Advance word is that it’s charming, especially Vardalos’ ugly duckling turning into a lovely swan, Corbett’s subtle comic foil and the various cultural differences—played for yuks—between her old-world parents (Lainie Kazan, Michael Constantine) and his stiff, but polite New World folks (Fiona Reid, Bruce Gray). Look for cameos by NSYNC’s Joey Fatone and SCTV alum Andrea Martin. The film was produced by Rita Wilson and hubby Tom Hanks, and directed by TV veteran Joel Zwick (The Parent Hood, The Wayans Bros., Hanks’ early Bosom Buddies), so it may be broad, even with its foreign pedigree. The website, www.movies.yahoo.com/greekwedding, offers selected links, a trailer, cast and crew notes, plot synopsis, a Greek wedding “to-do” list, a promotion with Bed Bath & Beyond and audio interviews with Vardalos and Fatone.

Chelsea Walls (Lion’s Gate): Ethan Hawke’s directorial debut about the legendary New York hotel which served as the home for boho/artistic types Mark Twain, Thomas Wolfe, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Sid Vicious, among others, was shot for about $100k on digital video and transferred to film. Hawke assembled quite a cast, too, including wife Uma Thurman, Vincent D’Onofrio, Steve Zahn, Natasha Richardson, Kris Kristofferson, Robert Sean Leonard, Tuesday Weld, Frank Whaley and Harris Yulin. Among the hotel’s denizens are a pair of Minnesota slackers wanting to become a musical duo (Leonard and Zahn), a waitress/wannabe writer (Thurman), a young poet (Rosario Dawson), a performing MC (Whaley), an aging jazz singer ("Little" Jimmy Scott) and a famous writer trying to finish his latest book in between running after several women (Kristofferson). It’s all very Wim Wenders crossed with Andy Warhol (remember Chelsea Girls?), which means forget the plot and learn to love the ennui. The film’s score was created by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. The www.chelseawallsthefilm.com website doesn’t necessary make things any clearer, but does offer a history of the hotel and the recipe for a Chelsea Hotel gin cocktail.

Enigma (Manhattan Pictures International): Director Michael Apted’s latest (after The World Is Not Enough, Coal Miner’s Daughter and Gorillas in the Mist, among others) is based on the best-selling novel by Robert Harris, with a screenplay by playwright Tom Stoppard. The movie, produced by SNL’s Lorne Michaels and Mick Jagger, is being compared to Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind. This World War II-era romantic thriller is based on the true story of British cryptographers struggling against enormous odds to develop a machine that could break the Nazis’ infamous Enigma code. Scottish actor Dougray Scott stars as Tom Jericho, a code-buster who returns to a north London compound from Cambridge to recover from a devastating affair with a colleague, who has vanished and may or may not be a traitor/spy. With his ex’s frumpy, but game, roommate (Kate Winslett), he sets out to unravel the mystery of her disappearance. The elements sound like they could cohere into a whole, but the movie feels more like an atmospheric art film than a conventional Hollywood thriller. The Decca/UMG soundtrack features music composed and conducted by veteran John Barry, while the website, www.enigmathefilm.com, offers the usual information in a way that evokes the code-busting theme of the movie. —R.T.

NAYSKAR PREEDICKSHUNS Y’ALL
This here week’s race is the Aaron’s 499 at Towel-uh-daygee, Ala-damn-bammy. Now, ah don’t uhzacklee know what a Aaron’s is, but 499 sounds like some kinda discount er other tuh me. Now, I was previously unner thuh impression that bumpin’ an’ rubbin’, swappin’ paint and fightin’ was all part o’ what this here racin’ deal is all about. But these no-good corprit types seem tuh be tryin’ to Gordonize NAYSKAR. You know whut ah mean—that damn purdy boy looks like a banker. And more an more, he’s lookin’ lahk the new prototype goody-goody driver. Ah wuz jes wondrin’ tuh mahsef if NAYSKAR ever suspended that dang ole Dale Earnhardt for rough drahvin’. Ah think not—whether you bow an’ scrape to that mean son of a bitch’s number 3 or not. So this week, ah gots to pick me Kevin Harvick in the #29 Goodwrench Chevy to win this here race. In light of all the controversy, ah gots to believe the Intimidator is gonna be ridin’ shotgun. Mah other favrit to watch is that Bud-swillin’ dope-smokin’ gamblin’-and-a-whorin’ Dale Jr. in that #8 Budweiser Chevy. Dang, I love that kid. That’s pervidin’, o’course, that that dang Shawna Robinson chick can keep her #49 BAM Racing Dodge out the damn way. She’s a good driver and all, but sumbuddy needs ta git her a real car. Now, there’s been quite a bit o’ blatherin’ about Bill Elliot in his #9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge, seein’ as how he’s got quite an impressive record at Towel-uh-daygee. Ah ain’t out tuh bust the guy’s chops, expeshly since he holds the track speed record of 220mph or some such (back before they choked down them engines with restrictor plates and a lil’ ole fender-bender meant certain death), but I jes’ gots tuh say ah think he’s got more Dick Trickle in him than Richard Petty at this stage of the game, if’n you get mah drift. Hey Grocery Boy—yeah, ahm talkin’ to you, Robbie "Nobody Hits Me" Gordon—shutcher damn pie hole. Didn’t see too much o’ you last week at Martinsville, now, did we? —Guy W.T. Goggles

SITE OF THE WEEK
Ever feel like you might have gone too far on your last bender? Well, unless your picture’s already on wastedchicks.com, take heart. You can still fire up the browser and see dozens of young ladies appearing (and in some cases actually being) not-so-ladylike following a few too many trips to the daiquiri bar—and rate them on a scale of 1 (“totally sober”) to 10 (“wasted party animal”). Absurd? Yes. Idiotic? Yes—and that’s reason enough for us to love it. According to the site, “Wasted Chicks is three guys’ solution to all the women out there that can never admit they are drunk.” Not enough of a mission statement for you? Try this: “Wasted Chicks was started by three guys Milton, Cornelius, and Xavier who wanted to see a place where you could see how drunk that girl was that one night.” Dude, we totally know that girl! Enjoy the “Top 10 Most Wasted” gallery. Or the “Top 10 Least Wasted.” The choice is yours. Submit a photo of a wasted chick or group of chicks. There are even “Wasted Forums” for you to sound off about how wasted that chick was that time. Attention budding entrepreneurs: As of this writing, there was not yet a wasteddudes.com.
—Jon O’Hara

A NEW YORK MINUTE
R to the O to the C to the K... It's going to be a great weekend in NYC—assuming this heat dies down! Where the hell was spring? On Friday, everyone is in for a special treat, as Powertrane comes to Warsaw in Brooklyn. The group, featuring Scott Morgan (ex-Rationals), is augmented, for this show only, by his old buddies Ron Asheton (Stooges) and Deniz Tek (Radio Birdman). New Yawk’s own The Mooney Suzuki opens. Incredible. Saturday the hot show in town, The Faint opening for No Doubt at Roseland is already sold out, so I'll suggest Beulah, who will be at Bowery Ballroom. They just appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien earlier this week, so get there early to snag a ticket. Sunday, scream-core leaders The Locust are playing, oddly enough, at the Village Underground. These San Diego up-and-comers are poised to start making it big, so don't be surprised to see a few suits at the show.
—Heidi Anne-Noel

ANOTHER BILLIE BANGER? (UPDATE)
Are you free Wednesday afternoon? (11/12a)
BIEBER BY CHRISTMAS?
How's that for a tease, Bieber Nation? (11/12a)
NEAR TRUTHS: MEET
THE NEW BOSSES
Not the same as the old bosses (11/12a)
CMA CENTERPIECE
CARRIE UNDERWOOD
This sure feels like her moment. (11/12a)
WHO'S GETTING ZERVAS?
It's down to two bidders. (11/12a)
THE GRAMMY NOMINATOINS
They'll soon be here, and then we can start obsessing about who'll win.
U.K. SPECIAL
Forget Brexit--it's our yearly survey of doings in Blighty. And if you still can't forget Brexit, try drinking.
ZERVAS STATION
Who's going to land the hottest unsigned property in music?
WEED!
That's what Hollywood smells like. Seriously. 24/7.
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