Archive for March 2006

Walk The Line

Now that the Academy have had the decency to tell me which films are worth seeing* I thought I’d better get my skates on and catch up.

The rock biopic (when did people start pronouncing that like ‘myopic’) is a strange creature. With rock ‘n’ roll being all about flashness, anecdotal tales of crazed individuals, and LOUD, LOUD brilliant music, you’d think that it would lend itself perfectly to movies. However, largely they are completely crap, buying into the folklore without acknowledging that most rock stars are pretentious ego-maniacs (cf. The Doors) and as tedious as that would suggest. In fact, most of the best ‘rock’ movies are either those that feature the band (therefore affording instant cult success from the legions of fans – no matter how crap/kitsch) or the occasional fictional foray into the murky mythology (for example Almost Famous, Still Crazy and, even Spinal Tap). But with the honourable exception of Great Balls Of Fire (as cartoon fifties as Grease, but with much, much better music – and, Peter Cook), the rock biopic has given us the most successful TV-movie of all time (surely not something you want to crow about) and the sight of everyone’s favourite psycho Gary Busey in over-sized specs.

And, TBH, Johnny Cash must be pretty far down the list of those due their day on the silver screen. Even moreso using his two autobiographies as the source material. Don’t get me wrong, the man was a god. For the first time I wept when someone famous died. But, amiable and enjoyable enough as they are, his books are hardly Hammer Of The Gods. His story goes that he was a self-centred git messed up on pills (for a bit) and that June Carter (Cash) was an absolute angel. And, that kinda sums up the movie. It is quite nice to see one of these things where you’re not supposed to keep thinking how cool the subject is, in fact he really is pretty cringeworthy at several points throughout it.

When Will Smith was up for awards for his performance in Ali, the general consensus (or criticism, if you’d rather) was that he wouldn’t get them as it was more of an impersonation than a performance. (Actually, pretty unfair. He was really good in an otherwise completely faffed movie. How could you not make it cool? And, ffs, boxing is one thing that film makers can make exciting standing on their heads. Not Michael Mann, apparently. Not enough pastel suits in the ring, then.) Joaquin Phoenix isn’t too like him. He more just suggests him thought a few well observed points. He’s got the flat tone that underpinned his vocals, the stance and (maybe one too many of) the facial tics. He’s never less than completely convincing, and often astoundingly charismatic (when performing – more of which anon).

And, so to Oscar Winner® Reese Witherspoon as his muse June. She does a darn’t sparky sassy turn that does bear a resemblance to old footage. The not-on-stage stuff, you just have to assume is pretty accurate. She’s nowhere nearly so perky all the time and it flows well. Not the greatest performance I’ve ever seen, but she does sorta hold the movie together. Well done all round, say I.

Possibly one of the strangest credits on this is “Music by T Bone Burnett“. Because, surely it’s all about johnny’s music (man)? Of course, if you want to recreate just about any period of american music in the 20th century T-Bone’s the man you go to. The authenticity of the stuff here is great. And, the performances from the leads are superb (although when the genuine article turns up at the end does kinda stand out). Which is as it should be. Even the really naff “we only got one more song…” scene that turns into them singing Folsom Prison Blues to Sam Phillips is rather rousing.

Special note about the opening scene (we like a good opener) at Folsom. Stomping! Keep an eye out for several pages on just how under-rated a (rhythm) guitarist Elvis was reduced to one brief double take.

*There is no parallel universe imagined by the most depraved individual in which the Wererabbit is a better film than Howl’s Moving Castle.

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Written by Tony Kiernan

07 March 2006 at 3:30 pm

Posted in Film

McLusky – McLuskyism

Jon Chapple, Andy Falkous and Mat Harding (and latterly Jack Egglestone, who never really got the chance get comfortable in the drum stool IMO) – aka Welsh trio McLusky – were the most under-rated band in Britain bar none. Now they are no more, and my life is certainly a darker place without the prospect of new records or catching them live ever again. I’ve yet to check out Chapple’s new outfit Shooting At Unarmed Men and to the best of my knowledge Falkous has hasn’t surfaced with his post stuff. Although, I’m interested, it is with a fair amount of trepidation. What made McLusky so damn unique was the interplay between the pair of them up front, not sure how they’ll be apart.

For the sake of a nice lazy shorthand, McLusky peddled an unholy amalgam of The Pixies otherworldliness, Beefheart‘s bass, and the beats and anger of Public Enemy. Seriously. And, if you can’t see that, go look again. The best thing about that is that it all seems so natural. They hang together like real band, unique and magnificent. Unfortunately, they were just too deep for them that hung their hats on the poshoe junky’s increasingly shaky nail squad and had far much humour (and humanity) for the goatee-beardo art-rock contingent that would usually be buying anything with (regular producer) Steve Albini‘s name on it (of course only in the limited 10″ vinyl version).

And, in this day and age being just too interesting is the worst crime of all. As the dozen ‘a-side’ tracks featured here. (Actually it includes Without MSG I Am Nothing which was intended to be a single, but they never got round to releasing. Included because “it should be” – according to the rather amusing sleevenotes* – although I can’t help feel it’s because She Will Only Bring You Happiness was too melancholy an ending.)

Of course, my recommendation to anyone would (normally) be to actually go out and buy all three of their ‘proper’ albums. Currently they can be picked up for not much more than this new release will set you back. Normally. For this album can be gotten in a fabulous 56-track strong three cd set which includes ‘b-sides’ (self explanatory) and ‘c-sides’ (live, demos, unreleased etc).

A single from McLusky was always worth picking up to see what was on the b-side. None of your remixes, cack handed covers and sub-standard stuff here. In fact there’s a couple of tracks on here that you might question why they were on the flip. Then you look at the quality of the a-side and it makes sense. It’s like a collection of over-shadowed siblings. Would people be constantly telling me how much they really liked that whiteliberalonwhiteliberlaction song had Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues not been born around the same time?

As for the demos etc, let me wheel out a cliche, many a band would be proud to stick something like that out as a proper album. I keep finding myself attracted to The Difference Between You And Me Is I’m Not On Fire, a strangely straight jangly indie pop number. And, the rough as a badger’s proverbial version of Love song For A Mexican, now officially my favourite song. Actually, there’s not even the usual completely unlistenable but historically ‘important’ stuff that usually gets thrown into collections like this to make up the numbers. (Although, there might be a song ripped off from The Timewarp.)

I have moral objections to live albums, but there’s sop much here that the nine tracks tacked on the end seem more like a very pleasant extra. But, yes, I have found myself sighing wistfully with the memories…

No idea what any of it’s about, but that’s not the point.

* The spellchecker I use corrected that to ‘solvent’s’. The phrase seemed fitting.

Written by Tony Kiernan

06 March 2006 at 5:51 pm

Posted in Records

Sparks – Hello Young Lovers

Probably said everything about Sparks in general already. Actually, more so, even about their new album Hello Young Lovers which they played in it’s entirey the other week.

So, let me just say that it’s as fab as I could’ve imagined from the gig – if not better. Massive and playful, and genuinely original. Now, you don’t get that often these days.

Written by Tony Kiernan

03 March 2006 at 11:50 am

Posted in Records

The Violent Femmes – Shepherd’s Bush Empire (26 February 2006)

Sometimes I can’t help but ask just why the hell I do stuff like this to myself. By rights I should be in bed peacefully recovering from the previous day’s rocking and rolling. But no, that would be far too easy/sensible. Instead I find myself running round the London Underground refusing to believe that there are genuinely two stations called Shepherd’s Bush which have absolutely no relation to each other.

Of course when I talk to people about traveling to so often to gigs, I always semi-jokingly explain that I really don’t have a life. When I say that I’m alluding to the fact that doing so does have a certain obsessive fanboy-type aura about it, or that, genuinely, these days there’s not even a cat that I need to think about feeding. Just how empty is my existence that I have to wander the length and breadth of the land desperately in search of some fleeting moments of happiness?

Of course, if that’s so, then this is one of those tomes of ecstatic sheer joy that’s just gonna make me do it all the more. Actually, thinking about this, I realise it happens a lot more than you’d think. And, no matter how many gigs you attend it always comes as something of a surprise that music can reach inside and move you such a level of emotion. It’s great that way. However, this time I danced like a tit and sang along to everything, arms aloft and grinning at complete strangers. Even more than usual. What must life be like for the Coldplay fans?

So, what was the highlight of all this fervor? Is the addition of Dr Eugene Chadbourne on Jesus Walking On The Water that transfers the band to some mutant bluegrass supergroup?
I Held Her In My Arms‘s insistence on being a heartbroken misery in the face of happiness? . Or the jazz idiocy of Black Girls? Nah. It’s all of it!! Next time I’m going to all their dates.

Written by Tony Kiernan

02 March 2006 at 5:33 pm

Posted in Gigs

Julian Cope – QMU (25 February 2006)

Pictures courtesy of Joste Bowen. Well, I say courtesy, he was positively rude about it.

Blurry HippyIt’s that time of the week where I post about something Julian Cope has released/performed/whatever. Or, at least it seems like that. And, to be honest, probably everything I’ve said about him on here has probably seemed rather negative and sounded deeply disappointed. Often, this may be somewhat over amplified. It’s just that the man can be so near to transcendent that when he misses the mark he’s got so much further to fall (and not just because of the six-inch platforms). Mr EAlthough having always (well from an early stage at least) released off the wall side projects to compliment his ‘proper’ albums, recently these have been becoming less and less separately identifiable. Thanks to the success of his books (mainly the megalith ones) he can release this work on his own label, unfortunately this has led to an increasing lack of any editorial input at all.

DoggenAnd, so to the current tour. Still on his faux-metal trip, we are presented with the three piece that were Brain Donor back in September. In addition to the stuff that they did back then that later surfaced on Dark Orgasm, we get a mix of Cope ‘classics’ from across his career (yes, including the “shut your mouth song”), and one BD track. Maybe it’s thinning of the latter that means this is a much more focused and entertaining band than four months ago? In fact, this is probably the best performance I’ve seen from the man in over two years. I’m kinda kicking myself for not catching any other dates on the tour. It’s not monumental, and didn’t really inspire me to go dig out either of last years albums. Largely the overt metal trappings feel tacked on top as decoration, not intrinsic to the music.

They finish with an inexplicably dirged down version of Spacehopper, hardly a song that has any real substance to warrant the reworking. I’ve been told that when The Teardrop Explodes originally did the track it was in this style. Well seeing it never saw the light of day back then, then.

Written by Tony Kiernan

02 March 2006 at 3:18 pm

Posted in Gigs