This has been a horrible summer for me in terms of keeping up with music news and new releases. Traveling always takes me out of my usual routine, and this summer I've been traveling a lot more than usual. But it turns out that traveling has been conducive to catching up with one particular music-related thing -- "Glee".
I'm not sure why I didn't get hooked on "Glee" earlier. But I finally caved -- fittingly enough -- on a trans-Atlantic flight that carried the pilot episode on one of its in-flight entertainment channels. Instantly, everything clicked. The humour on "Glee" is dry and complex, even sadistic. This is probably the best thing about the writing on the show. But there are numerous negatives. Too many episodes that feel like after-school specials. Too many hit-and-miss storylines involving the adults. The lack of a Sue Sylvester spin-off. Generally crappy studio production that renders many musical performances sterile. But the whole is better than the sum of the parts. You have an hour to kill sometime and the mood always seems to be right for watching "Glee".
"The Power of Madonna" episode demonstrated how great the show can be when it breaks out of its usual mold and into a theme-episode fantasy world when plot advancement is somewhat optional. As long as they don't overdo it with theme episodes (the idea of the recently announced "Rocky Horror Picture Show" theme episode is mouth-watering) and don't fall into the trap of doing ten of them every season, then these theme episodes should be nearly impossible to screw up.
"Glee", and to a lesser extent, shows like "American Idol" have discovered that future music stars aren't really worth much, instead, the monetary value in music appears to be in milking the nearly limitless supply of back catalogues of major artists. And I think the artists are realizing it too, which is why so many of them have happily handed over the performance rights to all their songs to "Glee" to stage them as they see fit. Hitting the jackpot means getting two minutes on "Glee" and the one-week iTunes sales spike that goes along with it. Sure, artists don't earn jack from iTunes sales, but then again, they do literally zero work in making that money. Their songs turn up on "Glee" or "Idol" while they sit at home and do nothing. Shit, even Bruce Springsteen is in on this, he let them perform "Fire" on episode 16, did anyone think that was possible at the start of the season?
In no particular order, here is a shortlist of the best performances of the season "thus far" (I've seen most of episodes 1 through 19):
Everything featuring Kristin Chenoweth (as April Rhodes). I actually can't stand the April Rhodes character (way too chintzy, way too Broadway, even for this show), but her musical performances are consistently breathtaking in their drive and intensity.
Sectionals. I don't really care for Lea Michele's voice, and it sounds too histrionic for most of the pop songs they always force her to sing. But letting her loose on Barbra Streisand's "Don't Rain on My Parade" found her perfectly in her element, and was the sole moment of the season to that point where the Rachel Berry character was 100% likable (a nearly perfect storyline arc ... she drives everyone nuts with her neurotic blabber about wanting to be a star, but when the chips were down and everyone needed her the most then they had to thank their respective gods that she is wired the way she is). And rumour has it that I may have shed a tear during the follow-up ensemble performance of "You Can't Always Get What You Want".
Everything in the "Bad Reputation" episode. Probably the best episode of the series and the only one where the cover versions consistently outshined the originals.
"Ride Wit Me". There was a great moment in "Throwdown" (episode 7) where the Glee club rocks this Nelly song, which was memorable both for its enthusiasm and the total WTF-ness of hearing "Ride Wit Me" belted out by a show choir. Why did this version have to end after just one minute?