Archive for March 2006

The Proposition

There are those that would maintain that Nick Cave‘s music always had a cinematic scale. That his tales of murder and mayhem lent themselves perfectly to a widescreen visual interpretation. This is complete twaddle. We al know what happens with films based on songs; no matter how good the intentions, the song is usually the only thing to walk away unscathed. There was always been a literary edge to his material (although if pushed I might have to demur on what exactly I mean by ‘literary’). When his first (and only) novel, And The Ass Saw The Angel was published in ’92(?) it seemed like an obvious move. In fact nearly as obvious as the book itself being a grotesque stream-of-conscious southern gothic, heavy on the biblical imagery. It was really rather good, quite beautiful in parts. But, not quite as great as we all wished it would be.

And, now comes his ‘first’ screenplay. (He actually co-wrote Ghosts…Of The Civil Dead, but everyone seems to be forgetting that for the moment.) Directed by John Hillcoat – a man apparently noted for filming the live Cave video, not for having directed the aforementioned Ghosts…The Proposition attempts to do for the Australian frontier what the anti-westerns of Clint Eastwood or Peckinpah did for the US one.

They do this pretty well, too. Of course being written by Cave (an man James Ellroy once described as the most pretentious and self-obsessed he’s ever met – James Ellroy!) it does have it’s fair share of epic/biblical pretensions. Largely these work, but there is some seriously clunky dialogue (I dare you not to cringe when Ray Winstone mutters “Australia – what new hell is this?”) and heavy-handed imagery (guess how many lashes are doles out at one point). But, this tale of the middle brother in a notorious trio of outlaws given the opportunity to save the younger by killing the elder, is overall a thoughtful, multilayered movie.

oh, and very violent. In fact just how violent would you imagine a film where Winstone plays the only ‘decent’ man in it? It’s that violent. Although, it’s a more eviscera lying about the place afterwards than graphic evisceration. Realistically harsh. As I’m sure the flies are meant to signify. There’s a lot of flies. No cavity or orifice is left unexplored by fly. I did find myself flapping my hands in front of my face on a few occasions.

Guy Pearce turns in one of those performances where you can’t be certain if it’s completely brilliant casting, or he’s not really being asked to do much. I’ll fall on the fide of the former, though. He’s mean and moody as required, with the heavy undercurrents of turmoil required for the job at hand. More interesting is Danny Huston as the badder-than-bad mofo oldest Burns brother. I wasn’t aware of the man at all until I saw Silver City last year, now he seems to turn up everywhere. More and more he’s making an impression on me. Surprisingly well suited to the educated, gregarious, Irish, psycho he plays here he brings a sense of malevolence where it could so easily have been melodrama.

AND, there’s cameo role from John Hurt! He gets to do nearly his whole repertoire from barking drunk to ass-kicking killer.

Possibly the most sunset-tastic film ever made. It’s hard to tell whether Hillcoat is making spectacular use of the Ozzy landscapes or if just happens that if you point a camera in the outback that’s what your left with. Again, like Pearce’s performance, it’s an apparent effortlessness that could be great craftsmenship that I’m more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on.

Cave and violinist Warren Ellis provide the superb score. (In fact, the legend goes that Cave was bored waiting for Hillcoat to come up with a screenplay, so knocked this out in a week or two so he had a film to make.) Often jarringly appropriate or spookily atmospheric. But sometimes just not quite right. Kinda like the whole film.

One day Cave will write the novel or screenplay that everyone believes he has in him. This isn’t it. (Maybe as such a fan of his music I’m expecting too much, but I think he can do it.) Although it fails to achieve the heights of a Josie Wales or Wild Bunch (maybe even The Searchers), as it would so love to, this is still probably one of the best things kicking about out there. A damn fine film.

Just, take some water with you.

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Written by Tony Kiernan

22 March 2006 at 7:49 pm

Posted in Film

Sin City (redux)

I couldn’t get into the showing of The Proposition that I wanted to last night, so looking for an alternative I noticed that the UCG were showing Sin City again. (I like when there’s no films to ‘preview’ and they do this rep stuff. It helps me catch up on lots of stuff.) Despite having previously asserted that I definitely would be seeing it again, I hadn’t. (Through no lack of effort on my part might I add.) So, what the hell I thought, let’s check it out once more.

And, I’ll stand by everything I said about it back then. Although, it seemed even more visually spectacular than I remember. I was also struck by some seriously duff acting, particularly on the part of the women; as I may have intimated, though, I don’t think many were cast for their acting abilities (although Brittany Murphy stood out for comment). TBH, I suspect this is where most of the weakness in the middle story stems from.

Despite having seen it before, I really did find huge chunks of it terribly exciting. Gripping stuff when it works best.

I’m still convinced that there’s a deep dark subtext to the whole Bruce Willis character. I’ve asked others about this and they’ve looked at me as if I’m daft. Mind, they all think that Rocky Sullivan was faking.

Written by Tony Kiernan

22 March 2006 at 11:51 am

Posted in Film

The Feeling/The Like – King Tuts (11 March 2006)

I know I’ve piffled on about bands choosing names that are easily findable on the interweb. And by rights (next to The The), The Like would be the worst possible example. However, they have got the fabulous url http://www.ilikethelike.com, so we’ll let them off.

This charitable bent on my part, has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that they are three very pretty girls (from the US). And, neither is just how much I enjoyed the gig (although it does help).

Likened to Throwing Muses, The Breeders and just about any american band featuring chicks ‘n’ guitars that you can think of, people seem to still have difficulty seeing past the gender in rock. Which is a shame, because there’s something original and very now going on here.

The rhythm section here are amazing. Tight as tights (ok, I’ll stop it) and punchy as fuck. The effect is like the good bits of The Strokes – this is a good thing. The drummer in particular is a joy to behold. It’s just so rare these days to see someone that plays their kit like a proper instrument not a glorified metronome. And, a nice lean, mean pared down kit.

Over the top of this the lead singer does the ethereal thing. And, fires out some stonking riffs. It’s a kinda boho hippy chick thing with a skewed edge. The vocals bring to mind the phrasing of Bjork at more than one point tonight. And, much as it really shouldn’t, it all marries together brilliantly.

Then all too briefly, they’re gone. Bummer. Looking forward to checking out the album and catching a longer (headline) gig next time. Suppose that’s an all round thumbs up then.

And, just at the point that I’m wondering just what’s happened to the capacity of Tut’s (it seems half empty, sold out shows never had this much space in my day), then the crowd seems to arrive en masse. I haven’t seen an audience so predominantly female since the time I got dragged along to see Travis (around the time of U16 Girls) in the same venue. They struck me as a completely cynical attempt to jump so many bandwagon’s it was scary. Worse than that, their lead vocalist coulkdn’t hold a tune for toffee. At least with The Feeling, you get the feeling that any cynicism comes from the shadowy figures in the background, not from the band themselves. Who, to be honest, come across as manufactured as any boy-band. They do current single Sewn and I realise that they’re just one of the many that meld into one another on the horrendous commercial radio station that my workmates insist on having playing in the background. Offensively bland, but so lacking in any substance that there’s not much chance of us remembering who they are within the year.

I said the same about Travis, mind.

Written by Tony Kiernan

13 March 2006 at 5:07 pm

Posted in Gigs

Mogwai – Mr Beast

Y’know, it’s not all cowboy hats round my pad.

I’ve always maintained that the two Mogwai singles I’ve previously bought were absolutely everything you would ever need by them. Stanley Kubrick being as close to an archetypal (stereo?) ‘Gwai track as you can get, and the four hour jewish hymn My Father, My King where they kinda opened their game a bit wider. Of course, since then, they’ve been experimenting with more varied instrumentation and even a little Radiohead-esque Aphex Twin ripping off (albeit with considerably better results), and occasional vocals. Still I’ve been happy enough to dust off one of my two singles annually and have a little blast of them. Never really needed or wanted any more.

So exactly what momentary lapse in concentration led me to purchase their new album Mr Beast the other day? I can’t help thinking that the packaging and ltd ed DVD may have swung it. You know the thinking; there’s always eBay.

And, well, it sounds like Mogwai. Lush and epic in all the right places. Occasionally rather moving. It’s the tracks with vocals that are the stand-outs. On Acid Food they get a bit bleepy, and Travel Is Dangerous is the Teenage Fanclub had they gone the way I expected after Everything Flows.

Yeah, pretty good stuff. Although, I’ve definitely got one too may Mogwai records, now.

Written by Tony Kiernan

10 March 2006 at 4:58 pm

Posted in Records

Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

I first came across Neko Case (well, as a solo artist at least) when her track Twist The Knife was number one in John Peel‘s Festive 50 in 2000 (I got back into listening to him when I bought my flat for some reason – go figure). If you are not familiar with this track, do yourself a favour and seek it out. Amazing.

And, much as the album this came from was OK, nothing quite reached the same giddy heights. Since then she’s worked extensively with the likes of Calexico and, while releasing some interesting work, never quite fulfilling the potential/expectations.

Until now, that is. Fox Confessor Brings The Blood finally delivers the Case we’ve been waiting for. Is this an album of stone cold classics to challenge Twist…? No, of course not. Has she made any major stylistic departures. Nope. Howie Gelb, Convertino et al. present and correct. But, it just all seems so much more coherent this time round.

The styles vary. A Widow’s Toast is a weird take on the southern spiritual. That Teenage Feeling is a dreamy (the only word) last dance at a 50s prom night. The awesome John Saw That Number which can only be described as glam-stomp gospel country, performed by the Pengiun Cafe Orchestra (and, a slight resemblance to Happy Hour by The Housemartins). But, they could only have come from this album.

The band on here are wonderfully subtle. All the drama comes from her vocals everything else backs it up beautifully. Again, I find myself fascinated by the keyboard work. Beginning to suspect this may be come an unhealthy obsession.

Seriously uplifting stuff.

Written by Tony Kiernan

10 March 2006 at 4:16 pm

Posted in Records

Hank III – Straight To Hell

For those of you not in the know (and I know there’s one or two of you out there), Curb Records is a big, big player in the country music world. And they must’ve been ecstatic when they won the bidding war to get to add Hank Williams III to their roster. Unfortunately, after two albums of (just above) average ‘big hat’ fayre (with a slight edge), they kinda fell out. The label didn’t want Hank to get any more sweary or sing more about booze ‘n’ pills. Whereas, he’d been writing stuff like Put The Dick Into Dixie (And, The Cunt Into Cuntry). A bit of a tiff followed. In fact several years of one. So, while Curb sat back sure that the need to eat etc would mean that H3 would cave in, he went out and had the time of his life, forming Assjack, a phenomenal psychobilly trio, and generally being rock ‘n’ roll. (Assjack ‘bootlegs’ sell for ridiculous monies on eBay these days.)

And, so the label finally blinked and here is the third H3 ‘official’ album, resplendent with naughty words. In addition to the label baiting …Dixie (and the handful or other anti-pop-country rants) mentioned above we get a set of classic country themed tales of drink, the devil and heartbreak, often all three at once. In fact I’ve been kicking myself, since I first listened to this, over the track My Drinkin’ Problem (…left today. She packed up all her things and walked away…). Why the hell did I not think of that? Grrrr. Great song, too.

The band on here are great. Sitting somewhere between rockabilly and classic bluegrass. None too polished, and full of energy. OK, we’re not talking any hardcore authenticity, but this is rough and ready enough to carry itself with some attitude.

His grand-daddy would be proud, although his paw would disapprove – which is really how you want it.

Written by Tony Kiernan

10 March 2006 at 2:36 pm

Posted in Records

Neil Diamond – 12 Songs

So, Johnny Cash catches the last train, and Rick Rubin gets out the bumper book of washed-up singer songwriters and picks a name at random. OK, that’s completely unfair. Neil Diamond can probably call up any Vegas casino-resort and demand any amount for a six month residency. But, he never really had the cool of ole JC. Despite being one of the best jobbing tin pan alley writers for a fair whack of years (cf. all the classic Monkees songs). But as a singer, it’s the very-MOR Jazz Singer image that does the phaedo-ness thing. Despite having a fairly decent set of pipes on him, we all prefer other folk doing his songs (just like Leonard Cohen – oh, go on admit it).

So we now have the fruits of his collaboration with Rubin in the shape of the…erm…13 songs on this CD (fourteen actual tracks). Very nice they are too. The production is the stripped back type on the four Cash records, with many of the same musicians. Including the wonderful Benmont Tench on piano – I think he may be my new hero. Nowhere near as darkly portentous as his work on JC’s stuff but still brilliantly sparse and inventive.

Rather unfairly, you cannot fail to compare this record with the JC albums. And, obviously, this is gonna suffer by that comparison (c’mon Rick, Jerry Lee next time!). But, what really gets me is that in small bits this is all great stuff. Two or three tracks at a time it’s amazing. Listen in a oner and it all gets a bit samey. Diamond never really was known for his subtle production and laid back atmospherics. And, this works best where it tries for the size we expect from him (when we get a whiff of the clapalongs and satin shirts). Evermore with it’s brass and strings builds beautifully to near the melodramatic level you’d expect from the man. The second version of Delirious Love, which features Brian Wilson is just completely over the top in bells and sha-la-la’s and brilliantly dotty.

Can’t wait until others start covering this stuff, though.

PS. Who allowed that cover actually get to the printers?

Written by Tony Kiernan

10 March 2006 at 1:14 pm

Posted in Records