Popdose debates: Aimee Mann, The Simpsons

Maybe I should spend less time debating issues in the Popdose comments and more time on the blog? I don’t know. At the moment, I’m in two interesting discussions on Popdose, which might be a better use of my time since this here blog is going through a dry spell due to a lack of time and lack of traffic.

First up is Aimee Mann and her new album, Bleeping Smilers. “Bleeping” is actually some collection of Beetle Bailey-style punctuation profanity, but I can’t be bothered to get it right. Just like Aimee, bless her heart, couldn’t be bothered to get this one right.

Ted at Popdose is a little more complimentary, which fits most of the reviews I’ve seen. I just don’t get it. The lyrics — rhyming “Phoenix” with “kleenex,” for example — aren’t up to her usual work. She’s typically a laid-back singer, but on this album, she enunciates like Billy Crystal’s old impressions of aging boxers. And the instrumentation is all over the place, as if someone were in the studio with Pink Floyd for Dark Side of the Moon saying, “Hey, you know what this song needs? A banjo!”

None of this is to say it’s horrible. There’s nothing here that’s ear-gougingly bad. It’s just disappointing compared to so much of her previous work, like the underrated Lost in Space.

While that debate rages, I find myself disagreeing with Dw. Dunphy, which is unusual. The topic: The Simpsons.

As a member of the Main Stream Media (new motto: the few, the proud, the … um … fewer), I may be a little biased toward institutions that have faded from past glories but are nevertheless worth maintaining. That sentiment is missing from the discussion so far.

Dw. doesn’t go overboard. He’s not one of these guys confusing cynicism with intelligence like the idiots in college who would tell you Saturday Night Live hasn’t been good since (Belushi, Murphy, Carvey, Ferrell) and that MadTV is better. (Loosely translated, that means “I have not developed critical-thinking skills, and you may safely ignore anything I have to say for at least another two years.”)

But I disagree with his take that the Simpsons themselves have become too callous. He’s right in saying Family Guy sometimes is too mean to be funny (though that applies much more often to South Park, in which the wonderfully incisive satire is sometimes overwhelmed by the sense that the creators think family tragedy is funny in and of itself). I just don’t see that in The Simpsons. Homer always learns his lesson, and his love for the wife and kids always wins out in the end.

They’ve overdone the marital strife, to be sure. But Homer’s callousness has always been there. In one of the early classics, his birthday gift for Marge was a bowling ball with Homer’s name on it. He’ll do the right thing in the end, but he has to be whacked over the head a few times to do it.

In that discussion, I came up with a list of worthwhile episodes from the past three seasons. Yes, they put out some clunkers along the way, though even those have a few good moments.

In looking at both discussions, perhaps I’m being hypocritical here. Aimee Mann and The Simpsons have done terrific work in the past, and they’ve set a high bar.

My guess is that The Simpsons are trying too hard and overreaching, sometimes coming up with concepts they can’t really fit in a half hour. Aimee Mann’s new album has the opposite problem. Her album sounds like a mildly intriguing set of demos rather than a completed work.

Yet their high standards just mean they both deserve a chance to be seen and heard even in a crowded marketplace. I’m sure The Simpsons will have a few more good episodes next season, and I’m sure Aimee Mann will have more good songs down the road. They’re hitting valleys, not jumping sharks.

If R.E.M. can come up with its best album in 15 years out of nowhere, I’m sure both of these institutions can recover.

Now, about the mainstream media …

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