? THE KID IS ALL RIGHT: Drake Bell is a heck of a talent, a genuine kid (20 years old!) whose musical instincts belong squarely in the sweetest poetic cockles of the 1970s, as displayed on his winning new album, It’s Only Time (Universal Motown). This is power pop, I guess you’d call it, and it sounds new, but it sounds real, too — which makes it sound like an album not of its time. Do 20-year-olds still write and co-produce records like this on major labels? Do they still make teen idols who are actual musicians?
“I think I was born in the wrong time!” Bell says with delightful enthusiasm, talking by phone en route from Charleston, South Carolina, to NYC last week. “I was always fascinated by ‘the old days’ — everything. I loved how vinyl sounded. And it was really on my own I discovered it. My dad took me to the record store, but I went toward Dylan and the Beach Boys and Beatles. I have more records than I have CDs.”
Throughout the piano-driven record, and especially on ditties like “Up Periscope” and “I Know,” Bell reveals an affinity for the great piano troubadours of that time — I ask him if he’s ever listened to Harry Nilsson or Randy Newman, and he falls all over himself: “I LOVE those guys! Listen to the record!” And they love him — apparently, Newman’s daughter came to a record signing and told him that her father sent his best wishes, and called him a great artist. “I was like, do you know what you just told me?”
Bell had a challenge getting this record together, as he is more famous as a child star from Nickelodeon’s Drake & Josh show. “It’s funny,” Bell says. “You see all the other [teen] artists out now, like Jesse McCartney, and it’s like, ‘I guess I’ll go into music’ — they’re just thrown into it because it’s a money-maker. I put out my first record [the melodic confection Telegraph] last year on my own because we were tired of having people say no. Nobody understood. They thought, this is some kid from Nickelodeon, what talent does this person have?”
Somehow, Motown Universal recognized Bell as the true songwriter he is. And the album they let him create — in a studio he and his bandmates built in North Hollywood — is like nothing you would ever imagine hearing today on a major label, much less on TRL. (The L.A. boy played on Regis & Kelly in a Guns N’ Roses shirt last week, which seemed unironic, and actually somewhat cool.) “My friend Scott Bennett plays in Brian Wilson’s band, and I went over to his house to play [the record] for him and some of the guys in his band. Those guys had never heard my music really, but the record started and they immediately stopped the second it came on — they were like, ‘We didn’t even know you were allowed to put out a record like this anymore! You guys are on Universal?’But it wasn’t anything fancy-schmancy; we did it like an indie record.”
The record is swell, but I’m intrigued by the live show: Bell promises six people singing harmonies live, which is something I haven’t seen since .?.?. well, since the Brian Wilson Pet Sounds tour, I guess. “We have to be real. We’re not going to do some lip-sync crap like Ashlee Simpson.” Don’t get this kid started.
I mean, do get this kid started.
DRAKE BELL | It’s Only Time | Universal Motown
?SAW THE STONES a couple weeks ago, the night before Thanksgiving, at Dodger Stadium. It’s really good to be alive.
I used to have this crazy job at a Midwestern daily newspaper, reviewing big arena concerts (Stones, Dylan, *NSync) on an insanely tight deadline. I would have to start writing my review at the show, while the concert was still under way. I had to do that with two Stones shows, as a matter of fact. Shit — come to think of it, I had to do that with Joni Mitchell and Dylan too. Sucked.
The task required me to form an opinion on a work of art before I’d even experienced it — which became onerous, and even dangerous, as it started to fuck with my experience of music. Being forced to have an opinion all the time, immediately, prematurely, quickly sucked the joy and levity from my work, my music, my life. I am the kind of music fan who generally grows to understand and love music slowly. I am a slow-cooker music fan. Not always, but often enough. I need to live with an album — a whole album — for weeks. I need to listen to it in private moments, banal moments, driving and cooking and lying on the floor all of a sudden, to let it work itself through my system, and maybe become part of my blood. Or, if I’m very lucky, my bones.
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So it was a rare joy to be able to attend a concert for pure pleasure, without goddamn overthinking it. The Stones had this enormous inflatable mouth/tongue that undulated troublingly and gave an entire roadie crew fits, refusing to unfurl on schedule (the most Spinal Tap moment of the evening — rad). Also troubling was Mick’s revision of lyrics on “Brown Sugar” and “Under My Thumb” to Radio Disney–friendly standards. I am a feminist, actually a bit of a bitch in that regard, but even I had to laugh. I mean, c’mon. “Under My Thumb” is a historical document at this point, like Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Why try and rewrite history? (It occurred to me later, Mick’s intent was not to remove his songs’ offensive qualities, but to make them sound less incredibly dated.)
Just a couple nights later, I finally dug into the marvelous ’05 DVD compilation The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons, which includes a backstage interview with Mick Jagger from 1972. Asked if he could picture himself going onstage at age 60, the then-28-year-old Jagger doesn’t skip a beat, answering without shame, “Yeah, easily.” And as seen in Cavett’s interviews with fans outside the show, Mick was considered old even then. It’s no wonder he doesn’t worry about his age. He’s been officially over the hill most of his adult life. Strike a blow for age: Mick’s performance at Dodger Stadium the other night was infinitely more freakish and energetic than the one documented on Dick Cavett.
Like I said, it’s good to be alive.
THE DICK CAVETT SHOW: ROCK ICONS | Shout Factory