Monthly Archives: February 2016

Rocks In The Attic #466: Various Artists – ‘True Detective (O.S.T.)’ (2015)

RITA#466That first season of True Detective in January 2014 might just be one of the greatest TV shows in recent years; good enough to rival the likes of The Wire and The Sopranos, both of which I’ve recently only gotten around to watching. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the second season of True Detective, which hit screens last year in 2015.

The outstanding first season, starring Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson and Michelle Monaghan, had everything. The story was engrossing, the music was great, the script and characterisation was better than most Hollywood films and the acting was superlative. In fact, the acing was so good, it almost seemed that Academy voters had this in mind when they awarded the Best Actor Oscar to McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club.

Every episode would kick off with the opening credits, soundtracked by The Handsome Family’s Far From Any Road. The opening bars of this sound so much like Del Shannon’s Runaway, that I would take this as my cue to sing As I walk away, I wonder, A-what went wrong with our love. I would do this at the beginning of every episode, for eight long weeks. I must be great to live with; Jive Bunny has a lot to answer for.

It wasn’t just the acting was a stand-out though. Episode four includes a scene where McConaughey’s undercover character robs a rival biker gang. The robbery takes a turn for the worse, and we see the events unfold in a six minute tracking shot without any cuts that is absolutely stunning. This made Orson Welles’ and Scorsese’s tracking shots in A Touch Of Evil and Goodfellas look like the work of a sixth form film class.

The second season didn’t work quite as well. The show is designed to be an anthology series, so the second season featured new characters, bearing no relation whatsoever to the first season. Thankfully, this also means that a third season will have nothing to do with the disappointing second season.

On paper, season two sounded great. My fellow True Detective fans at work joined me in rejoicing at the casting of Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn as the season’s two male leads. Unfortunately, it was not to be. The season was a slog to get through every week; and while Farrell’s anti-hero character was gorgeously likable for being so unlikable, Vince Vaughn just proved to the world that he was not meant for dramatic roles.

Rachel McAdams though? Her portrayal of an embittered cop, forced to partner up (in a tenuous bit of serendipitous storytelling) with Colin Farrell and Taylor Kitsch, was the standout performance of the season. The only other redeeming quality of season two was Leonard Cohen’s song Nevermind, which played over the opening credits. Featuring a different set of lyrics each week, taken from different verses in the song, Cohen’s dirty grumble combined with a wicked bassline was sometimes the best thing about the show.

Season two did have two great scenes though, to rival anything from the first season – a gun battle on the streets of L.A. in episode four, and Rachel McAdams’ drug-induced infiltration of a sex party in episode six – but other than this, we seemed to get a lot of scenes with Vince Vaughn talking about property development. Yawn. Those pornographic images of roads and highways featured on the opening credits and between scenes were way more interesting than Vaughn’s dialogue.

Hit: Far From Any Road – The Handsome Family

Hidden Gem: The Only Thing Worth Fighting For – Lera Lynn

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Rocks In The Attic #465: REO Speedwagon – ‘You Can Tune A Piano But You Can’t Tuna Fish’ (1978)

RITA#465Thanks Moo. Thanks so much. You really shouldn’t have.

I always appreciate it when people give me records as gifts. There’s nothing more I’d like in the world. There’s nothing worse than receiving a gift that you’re just going to put at the back of a shelf to attract dust until you find it years later and end up throwing away.

At least with records, you always have them there to listen to if the feeling takes you. And when I feel the need to listen to some spectacularly titled AOR, it’s this album I always reach for.

That title though? Is there anything worse? I’m not sure there is. All of the dusty American rock bands of the mid ‘70s must have been shitting themselves when punk came along, and for some bands – Aerosmith’s Night In The Ruts is a good example – the new genre gave them a good kick up the backside. REO Speedwagon did something different though. They still continued to churn out the made moderate-speed moderate rock, but they just gave it a “funny” title that might appeal to the record-buying youth. I don’t think it worked.

Around this time – just before Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry met up and cursed themselves by naming their band so that their records would sit next to REO Speedwagon for the rest of eternity – there were so many bands of this ilk. REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Journey, Toto; I can’t really tell when one ends and another one starts. They’re all just very much the same in my mind. Toto get a pass because of Africa, and for their contribution to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, but all of the others can go and write some heart-wrenching pop together on a big desert island.

I remember being really amused when I was flicking through the racks at Beatin’ Rhythm in Manchester, and they’d put a load of (Journey vocalist) Steve Perry solo 7” singles in the Aerosmith section. Man, I bet they felt really stupid when they realised…

Hit: Roll With The Changes

Hidden Gem: The Unidentified Flying Tuna Trot

Rocks In The Attic #464: The Beach Boys – ‘Surf’s Up’ (1971)

RITA#464I think this might be my favourite era of the Beach Boys. Of course I love the ‘60s Beach Boys – who doesn’t? – but their albums around this period feature music that is just so fragile and different from the surf pop from which they made their name.

I’ll put my money on the fact that Ben Folds listened to this record when he was growing up. In fact, it sounds so close, it could be a Ben Folds record if only there was a little bit more piano on it. Ben definitely hits the keys harder than Brian, but that’s where the differences end.

I recently watched the fabulous Brian Wilson biopic Love And Mercy on a plane into Sydney; one of those occasions where you find yourself hurrying the film up to finish, because you don’t think you’re going to make it to the end before the plane reaches its destination. I needn’t have worried; I made it in plenty of time.

Surf’s Up would be placed closer to the timeframe in the film where Brian Wilson is portrayed by Paul Dano – in fact it’s only five years after Good Vibrations was released, the crowning achievement of Dano’s Wilson. Those sections of the film work much better; the John Cusack scenes set in the ‘80s don’t revolve around the music as much. They’re more concerned with the drama of Wilson’s life at that time – something I just didn’t find as interesting as seeing Wilson teach the chord changes of Good Vibrations to the Wrecking Crew.

There are no big hit singles of this record. It wasn’t about hit singles by this time; it was a new decade and the album was king.

Hit: Feel Flows

Hidden Gem: Lookin’ at Tomorrow (A Welfare Song)

Rocks In The Attic #463: Bill Cosby – ‘I Started Out As A Child’ (1964)

RITA#463A couple of weeks ago, Real Groovy, the largest record store in Auckland moved sites – just across the road, in fact – due to their long-standing premises being redeveloped into city apartments (what else?). They took this opportunity to clear the decks and run a record sale to get rid of all the bottom-end stock. $1 a record, or 50 for $25. That’s 50c a record! I couldn’t pass this up.

There was a lot of junk in there though – I even saw the most copies of a Nana Mouskouri record in one place I’m ever likely to see:

RITA#463a(Side note – was Nana Mouskouri just decades ahead with her look? Those spectacles always defined her, but they don’t look much different to the styles of today).

To reach 50 records was a really hard slog, especially as it’s the middle of summer here. Thankfully I managed to find records I was at least interested in, or looked interesting. One thing that did help in terms of sheer numbers was that I found an almost complete Bill Cosby stand-up collection in decent condition.

Which leads me to the moral question – is it still okay to listen to Bill Cosby? As my friend Krista recently pointed out, Cosby was the greatest TV Dad of the late 1980s, which is why it’s so sad to hear all the allegations against him. The mounting evidence doesn’t look good; but if you stopped listening to artists because of what they do in their private life, then your record collection might be a constantly shrinking concern.

You’d have to throw those Beatles records away of course, due to the antics of self-confessed wife beater John Lennon, and the Who would be off limits because of Pete Townshend’s arrest. Oh, hang on, that was for “research”, wasn’t it?

I admit I’m rather partial to a bit of Gary Glitter’s Rock And Roll Part Two, and who doesn’t go teary-eyed when they hear Rolf Harris’ Two Little Boys? If you took everything into consideration, you’d have to boycott Roman Polanski films too – so no Chinatown, no Frantic or The Pianist. And those Tippi Hedren allegations against Hitchcock might rule his films out too. Screw that. I think I’d rather be a walking contradiction – consuming their art with one side of my brain and trying my best to ignore their private lives with the other.

This is Cosby’s second album, released in 1964, but the first to include stories of his childhood which he would cover throughout most of his career, not least on 1968’s To Russell My Brother Whom I Slept With. There’s a weird coliseum echo on the album, which kind of makes it even more authentic and of its time, and as with most stand-up comedy from that era, it’s not offensive or vulgar; just charming.

Cosby’s album titles make me laugh though – they sound like confessions that the prosecution team might take as evidence of his wrongdoing. I can imagine the following dialogue in court:

Prosecutor: Mr. Cosby, can you tell us when your offending began?

Cosby: I Started Out As A Child.

Prosecutor: I see. And is there any particular person in your childhood you would blame?

Cosby: My Father Confused Me… What Must I Do? What Must I Do?

Prosecutor: Interesting. Is there anybody else in your family you would point to?

Cosby: To Russell My Brother Whom I Slept With.

Prosecutor: Your own brother? You can’t expect us to believe your younger brother is at fault.

Cosby: It’s True, It’s True.

Prosecutor: And what was your motivation for the offending?

Cosby: Revenge.

Prosecutor: Against women in general, or against your family?

Cosby: Those of You With Or Without Children, You’ll Understand.

Prosecutor: Please don’t address the jury, Mr. Cosby. Now, can you point to where this…sickness originated?

Cosby: Inside The Mind Of Bill Cosby.

Prosecutor: Are you saying that you weren’t thinking rationally at the time of the wrongdoing?

Cosby: Bill Cosby Is Not Himself These Days.

Defence: Your honour, my client pleads insanity.

Judge: Order! Order! Order in my courtroom!

*

Hit: Sneakers

Hidden Gem: Street Football

Rocks In The Attic #462: The Clash – ‘The Clash’ (1977)

RITA#462.jpgMy love/hate relationship with the Clash continues. Re-released on Record Store Day’s Black Friday in 2015, I really only bought this because of the lovely split vinyl in white riot / Protex blue. It’s too good just to look at though.

One of the things I love about this debut album is the tracklisting versus the running time. Fourteen songs breeze past in thirty five minutes. What’s not to like about an album where the average running time is two minutes and fifty three seconds? If you don’t like a certain song, by the time you reached that decision, there’ll be another one coming around the corner in a matter of seconds.

I should like the Clash. They’re clearly the most talented of all the bands that came out of the punk movement in the UK. They can really play and they’re great songwriters, which you can’t say for a lot of the punk bands that got by on a mixture of attitude, nose rings and spit. It isn’t the band that’s to blame though for my apathy towards them, it’s the bloody fans.

Clash fans are one of the worst subcultures in music fandom. To Clash fans, the Clash are the beginning and end of everything. And don’t get me started on the deification of Joe Strummer. As part of a well-balanced musical diet, the Clash are a healthy pursuit, but moderation is everything and the Clash are really nothing more than the best of a bad bunch. Or are they something more? What am I missing?

Hit: White Riot

Hidden Gem: Police & Thieves

Rocks In The Attic #461: Stevie Wonder – ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’ (1976)

RITA#461Songs In The Key Of Life is one of those double albums that’s like an entire Desert Island Discs episode in one package. There aren’t many double albums that I’d be happy listening to over and over again as I grew my beard out and learned how to spear fish, but this is one of them. I just hope there’s a lady on the island that I can dance with when I’m blasting out As or Sir Duke.

It’s interesting looking at the singles that were released off this album to promote the album – only I Wish, Sir Duke, Another Star and As. So that means no 7” releases for either Pasttime Paradise – famous more for its use by Coolio in Gangsta’s Paradise – or Isn’t She Lovely – undoubtedly the most famous song off the record – but denied a single release by Stevie himself who wouldn’t allow Motown to release a shortened edit of the six and a half minute song.

It’s a testament to Stevie’s talent and sheer dedication to his craft that he was able to pull a double-album’s worth of such strong material together, and that’s not including the bonus 7” record which adds a further four songs onto the running time. Soul music and R&B isn’t known for its double albums. The genre is borne out of dancing and partying, and who wants to flip a record over that many times? In fact, for almost the same reason, the other genre that tends to eschew the double album format is punk. Well, until London Calling came along – a genre-spanning collection similar in scope and confidence to Songs In The Key Of Life.

Speaking of flipping the record over, Songs In The Key Of Life is one of those weird records with the A/D B/C format, built for record changers. I still haven’t seen one of those near-mythical machines so I’m yet to experience one in action, but I always think it would be better to order the sides A/C B/D and then if you had two turntables and a mixer you could seamlessly play the album without stopping.

Isn’t She Lovely reminds me of the times I used to visit friends in Wexford, Ireland. We used to go and see a covers band called the Dylan Bible Band, who used to do a great cover of the song. It’s built to be played endlessly, when you have the right players (which Dylan Bible did), and it sounded great just going around and around as a seemingly infinite chord progression, just like Stevie’s version.

Hit: Isn’t She Lovely

Hidden Gem: Contusion

Rocks In The Attic #460: 10cc – ‘10cc’ (1973)

RITA#460My parents recently came over to our side of the world for Christmas, and my Dad brought with him a couple of ripe quiz questions. The first one was something along the lines of:

‘Which ‘60s group’s first three singles went to #1 in the UK?’

The answer wasn’t 10cc (they didn’t get release a single as 10cc until the early ‘70s) – it was Gerry & The Pacemakers – but his second question was just as tricky:

‘Which band’s three UK #1s were sung by different vocalists?’

This had me scratching my head for days, thinking it was going to be more of a vocal group like Sister Sledge or somebody like that, rather than a band who play instruments. Of course the correct answer was 10cc – Rubber Bullets (Lol Creme) in 1973, I’m Not In Love (Eric Stewart) in 1975, and Dreadlock Holiday (Graham Gouldman) in 1978.

This lovely reissue of 10cc’s debut from 1973 – in beautiful red vinyl – features some interesting liner notes (remember them?) by Michael Heatley. In his short biography of the band up to this point, Heatley mentions that 10cc, despite the harmonic similarities drawn between themselves and Queen, saw their output to be more in line with Steely Dan. I’ve never considered this, but they’re probably as close as you’re going to get to the UK’s answer to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen’s clever lyrics.

What isn’t in debate is the quality of 10cc’s output by their first album. No debut jitters here, they sound fully formed and their recent history as songwriters through the late ‘60s serves them well. This isn’t typical boy meets girl material; it’s storytelling with that acerbic and cynical wit typical of Becker and Fagen.

I love Rubber Bullets. Despite its camp charm, it’s got such a hook (similar in tone and subject matter to its partner in crime I Predict A Riot by the Kaiser Chiefs); but it’s by no means the only highlight of the album. Even if you take away the other singles – Donna, Johnny Don’t Do It and The Dean And I – you’re still left with a very strong set of songs; songs that other less-talented bands would probably kill for.

Hit: Rubber Bullets

Hidden Gem: Sand In My Face