Monthly Archives: March 2020

Rocks In The Attic #843: Various Artists – ‘Night Of The Living Dead (O.S.T.)’ (1968)

RITA#843New Zealand officially entered its COVID-19 lockdown last Wednesday. Four weeks of home isolation and things are already starting to get weird. Everybody seems to be behaving themselves, aside from the occasional morons you see on the news getting told off by the Police.

It’s not difficult to ponder what might happen next. We haven’t seen any looting yet, and that’s usually the first sign of society starting to break down: ‘I really need this food to survive the lockdown…and this 60” plasma flat-screen.’

What if the lockdown doesn’t work, or the virus mutates and civilisation starts to ground to a halt. What do we do then?

RITA#843aWhat better source of inspiration that George A. Romero’s Dead films?

First of all, who’s likely to be armed for the occasion? Despite not being a typically gun-friendly nation, New Zealand’s gun stores had a run just before the lockdown, but it seems people were mostly buying air-rifles (pigeon-stew anybody?). That means that aside from the odd weekend hunter, most city folk will be unarmed.

You’d probably have to go into the countryside to find some real firepower. I’d expect most of, if not all, of our country’s farmers to own shotguns and rifles, and so a farmhouse – like the location in Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead – might be the safest place in the country. Plenty of milk to drink too.

As I don’t personally know any famers, approaching a farmhouse would be potentially more dangerous than the zombie hordes I’m trying to escape. I do live near a shopping mall though, which brings us to Romero’s 1978 sequel Dawn Of The Dead.

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Presuming that petrol has dried out by this point, I have two options within walking distance: Meadowlands, a glorified strip-mall that has nothing of interest other than a supermarket (unless you think the contents of an Asian $2 shop might be useful in a zombie outbreak), and Botany, a picturesque outdoor shopping mall a little further afield.

Of the two, there’s a greater range of stores in Botany, but the outdoor nature of the complex, rather than a standalone mall structure, would make it practically impossible to defend. The best course of action would be to head to Sylvia Park, twelve kilometres away.

The route to Sylvia Park also requires the crossing of one of two bridges. That would make for a good scene in a zombie film, I’m sure. Cars piled up, buses hanging over the edges of the barriers on either side of the bridge. Perfect opportunity to get picked off by a sniper though; I must be careful!

It’ll all be worth it; Sylvia Park has got it all. There’s even an entire section devoted to outdoorsy camping shops. I should be good to hole up there in a deluxe, 7-man camping tent.

And in terms of following the plot of 1985’s Day OF The Dead, I’m not sure. The New Zealand army is so small, I’m not sure they even have any overground bunkers, let alone any underground ones.

Hit: Opening Drive

Hidden Gem: Ghouls Approach The House

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Rocks In The Attic #842: Various Artists – ‘The King Of Comedy (O.S.T.)’ (1982)

RITA#842There’s an area of the internet that believes that Martin Scorsese’s The King Of Comedy is somehow a better film than Todd Phillips’ Joker. While it’s clear that without Scorsese’s film, Phillips’ film wouldn’t exit – it’s a key influence on Joker alongside Scorsese’s earlier classic, Taxi Driver – it’s also clear that Joker managed to take those key elements of The King Of Comedy and do something far more interesting with them. How much of this existed while Scorsese was initially attached to Joker as producer, before departing to announce that comic book films were the equivalent of theme park rides, is unclear, but one has to wonder if he was simply uncomfortable with referencing his own work so blatantly.

RITA#842aYou have to wonder what the point of The King Of Comedy is; what Scorsese is trying to achieve. After the success of Taxi Driver for Columbia Pictures in 1976, the director made a couple of lukewarm films for United Artists: New York, New York in 1977 and Raging Bull in 1980. While the latter has proven to be one of his strongest films, it wasn’t initially received as such, and only took $23 million against an $18 million budget.

Switching to 20th Century Fox for The King Of Comedy, it almost seems that Scorsese is trying to not only derail his own career but destroy his reputation with each of the major film studios. His cocaine addiction probably deserves some of the blame here. It wouldn’t be his first strange choice for a project, and it wouldn’t be his last.

Where De Niro’s character in Taxi Driver was to some extent an anti-hero, his Rupert Pupkin in The King Of Comedy is even more unlikable than Raging Bull’s Jake La Motta. He’s a wannabe stand-up comedian; more infatuated with the glare of the TV cameras than the audience he’s entertaining. It’s not widespread success he’s chasing, it’s merely the acceptance of Rita (Diahnne Abbott).

That was the one thing that stuck out like a sore thumb when I saw Joker in the cinema; that they had cast a black actress (Zazie Beetz) as Sophie, Arthur Fleck’s (Joaquin Phoenix) love-interest. It seemed a little too on the nose, a blatant casting choice (the fact that Beetz looks so similar to Abbott doesn’t help matters). But to his credit, Todd Phillips does something far more interesting with the nature of his film’s central relationship.

Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoonmaker’s camera-flash free-frame used for the opening credits (and over a great Ray Charles song) is particularly well done. The other great shot is the image of Jerry Lewis’ Jerry Langford catching Pupkin’s hijacked monologue on a bank of TV’s in a store window after he escapes from Sandra Bernhard’s obsessed stalker Masha. Cinematic gold.

Times Square looks wonderful, and it’s nice to spot Blade Runner up on the marquee of one of the movie theatres. It’s also great to spot three quarters of the Clash – Joe Strummer, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon – alongside Don Letts and their sometime manager Kosmo Vinyl, as extras in the scene where Masha confronts Pupkin. Topper Headon must have been busy.

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Not only did the film heavily influence Joker, but the scenes of Pupkin rehearsing / fantasising in his bedroom and hollering at his constantly interrupting mother (played by Scorsese’s mother Catherine) clearly influenced a similar trope in TV’s The Big Bang Theory.

I don’t think the needle-drops work spectacularly well in the film, but the soundtrack on its own is fantastic. Scorsese’s first collaboration with the Band’s Robbie Robertson as a de facto music supervisor sets the tone of most of the director’s soundtracks for the next three decades (right up to last year’s The Irishman): lots of blues based ‘60s and ‘70s rock interspersed with the occasional pop song.

Robertson’s own Between Trains exists as his first original song since leaving the Band, and the soundtrack also includes the only appearance of David Sanborn’s The Finer Things. Alongside Scorsese soundtrack regulars Van Morisson, B.B. King and Ray Charles, the soundtrack also features younger artists like the Cars’ Ric Ocasek, Talking Heads and the Pretenders. It’s the Pretenders’ song, Back On The Chain Gang, that feels so out of place, being such an evergreen radio hit.

Hit: Back On The Chain Gang – The Pretenders

Hidden Gem: Between Trains – Robbie Robertson

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Rocks In The Attic #841: Maurice Jarre – ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ (1990)

RITA#841The first thing that jumps out when revisiting Adrian Lyne’s 1990 film Jacob’s Ladder is just how disgusting New York City looks. Set mostly in 1975, the city looks unrecognisable; more Pelham 1-2-3 than the tourist-friendly city of the 21st century. Tenement buildings are grimy, subway cars are strewn with litter and the streets are as uninviting as the sewers beneath them.

Tim Robbins, just before being recognised as a national treasure, plays Jacob Singer, a US infrantryman in Vietnam. In the film’s opening sequence, his platoon is ambushed by an unseen enemy while many of his comrades suffer unexplained convulsions and seizures. The sequence ends with Jacob himself receiving a bayonet to the chest.

He wakes up (WINK!) years later in New York City, having just fallen asleep on a late-night subway train. Slowly, over the course of the next ninety minutes, his life begins to unravel as he sees disturbing visions and phenomena. The special effects are great; low-key and minimal, but brilliantly effective. Being made in 1990, it manages to avoid the over-reliance on computer-generated effects that burdened Hollywood later in the decade.

Not only do we get Tri-Star and Carolco studio idents at the top of the film, but what a great ensemble cast: Tim Robbins, Ving Rhames, Macauley Culkin, Danny Aiello, Eriq La Salle, Jason Alexander (with hair) and Brian Tarantina.

The film has a really nice, slow build-up. You can’t imagine a modern-day horror taking this amount of time (aside from Ari Aster’s Hereditary and Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man).

Maurice Jarre’s score fits the film perfectly. The delicate, lilting piano lines of the soundtrack’s main title reminds me of Michael Andrews’ work on Donnie Darko, and it’s clear that this must have been a key text for Andrews when composing that score. To add to this, the crescendo of Jarre’s final cue, The Ladder, feels like it might have had some influence on Howard Shore’s sublime score to The Silence Of The Lambs a year later in 1991. There’s even a couple of nice needle-drops, particularly in the party scene. A mental freak-out over James Brown’s My Thang? Yes please!

I first watched the film during my first foray into horror – most probably when it was first broadcast on Sky TV in the UK – but it didn’t do much for me at the time. I’ve really enjoyed a revisit 30 years later. In light of the coronavirus pandemic reaching fever pitch last week, it’s a ripe reflection of the panic and hysteria that’s happening around the world. Just because you’re paranoid don’t mean they’re not after you.

And not a Huey Lewis & The News song in sight…

Hit: Jacob’s Ladder

Hidden Gem: The Ladder

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Rocks In The Attic #840: Various Artists – ‘James Brown’s Funky People’ (1986)

RITA#840You wait twenty years for a reissue of this album (and its funky Part 2 follow-up) to come along, and all the funk-heads in Auckland race to the record store.

Last Friday, I received Southbound Record’s weekly email around 11am, and dashed out as soon as I could. I ended up snagging their last copy of this first volume, but somebody had beat me to the store’s only copy of Part 2. The helpful guy on the counter said that they hadn’t ordered as many copies of Part 2, thinking that it wouldn’t have been very popular, but in the end everybody that came in for Part 1 also asked for Part 2.

Such is the power of this collection: 46 minutes of unbelievable funk, split over a DJ-friendly four sides. Originally released in 1986, to capitalise on James’ newfound status as the hardest working sample in hip-hop, the compilation gathers together the best singles from his People record label. All but one song is recorded by the J.B.’s, James’ backing band led by funky trombonist Fred Wesley (the exception is Lyn Collins’ Rock Me Again & Again & Again & Again & Again & Again, which for some reason features Collin’s vocal against a backing track of unknown studio musicians).

As a result, the album is unbelievably cohesive for what is essentially a compilation of ‘various artists’. For the most part, it represents the J.B.’s greatest hits, and is easily the greatest achievement of a backing band this side of Booker T. & The M.G.’s. Pure desert island disc stuff.

It’s just the tonic for what’s happening in the world right now with the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). Today, New Zealand closed its borders to non-New Zealanders, and so the only thing to do is sit it out. Looks like my record player is going to get a workout…

Hit: Pass The Peas – The J.B.’s

Hidden Gem: Hot Pants Road – The J.B.’s

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Rocks In The Attic #839: Space – ‘Spiders’ (1996)

RITA#839If Liverpool band Space had arrived just five years later, they might have stood more of a chance. As it stands, their 1996 debut came out just in time to catch the Britpop wave. Their stronger, second album Tin Planet – a real achievement in songwriting and production – was the one that lost out. Released in 1998 among the other dregs of Britpop – Embrace’s The Good Will Out, Pulp’s This Is Hardcore and The Bluetones’ Return To The Last Chance Saloon – it might not have had much in the way of competition, but it was certainly a dull time for British music; the start of the comedown years.

Space’s quirky sound is a real mixing pot of influences, partly driven by an admiration for Cyprus Hill’s bass-driven grooves and use of sampling. Vocalist and (on this record) bassist Tommy Scott is a huge fan of soundtracks and scores, hence the ‘universal’ feel of the lyrics. Guitarist Jamie Murphy is a typical Britpop / Indie kid (and looks the most like he could be in any guitar band of the mid-90s). Keyboard player Franny Griffiths handles the samples and synthesisers, providing the genre-crossing, EDM-friendly sound that sets them apart from the rest of Britpop. Drummer Andy Parle, who sadly died in unexplained circumstances in 2009, completes the line-up.

RITA#839aMost people will recognise Female Of The Species, the latino, sample-driven song about female dominance. Initially used as the theme song to the British TV show, Cold Feet, it charted at #14 in the UK charts, and remains the band’s signature piece.

If anything, the album quickly overstays its welcome at a far too long 52 minutes. As a result there are three or four songs that feel tacked on to side two that could easily be expunged. Tin Planet is also a little baggy in this area (49 minutes), and suggests that the band were not great at editing themselves.

Unfortunately, Tin Planet never made it to vinyl. Spiders has only been issued once on the format for its 1996 release, and for a picture-disc reissue in 2016. I had to trawl Discogs for this expensive first pressing, which has a weird misprint on the second side causing the needle to sway from side to side while tracking. Given the eclectic sound of the band, it’s hard to spot the slightly phased sound from anything they’ve done to the songs themselves.

Hit: Female Of The Species

Hidden Gem: Money

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Rocks In The Attic #838: Bill Hicks – ‘Rant In E-Minor: Variations’ (2016)

RITA#838The first thing I ever heard about Bill Hicks was the title of his fourth comedy album, Rant In E-Minor. I was reading one of the music magazines – Mojo or Q, or something like that – back in 1994, and Phil Jupitus was being interviewed about his favourite albums. He chose Rant In E-Minor purely for its superb title (because surely everybody knows that Relentless is Bill’s best from those original four Rykodisc albums). It is a great title; possibly the greatest for a comedy album, especially for one so angry.

This release by Comedy Dynamics, for Record Store Day 2016, represents the very first of Bill’s work to be released on vinyl. It’s an expanded and unedited version of the Rant In E-Minor album, minus Bill’s musical interludes from the original release. Recorded at The Laff Stop in Austin, Texas in October 1993, the performance falls four months after his pancreatic cancer diagnosis, and just four months before his death at the age of 32.

RITA#838aMy only concern is that Bill’s best friend, Kevin Booth, who produced three of Bill’s four original albums, seems to have now been sidelined by the Hicks family (three of which are listed as producers on this release). I hope Kevin still has some skin in the game, and eventually gets to release those original albums on vinyl at some point.

In early 1995 Bill’s family released a brief essay that he had written a week prior to his death:

I was born William Melvin Hicks on December 16, 1961 in Valdosta, Georgia. Ugh. Melvin Hicks from Georgia. Yee Har! I already had gotten off to life on the wrong foot. I was always “awake,” I guess you’d say. Some part of me clamoring for new insights and new ways to make the world a better place. All of this came out years down the line, in my multitude of creative interests that are the tools I now bring to the Party. Writing, acting, music, comedy. A deep love of literature and books. Thank God for all the artists who’ve helped me. I’d read these words and off I went—dreaming my own imaginative dreams. Exercising them at will, eventually to form bands, comedy, more bands, movies, anything creative. This is the coin of the realm I use in my words—Vision. On June 16, 1993 I was diagnosed with having “liver cancer that had spread from the pancreas.” One of life’s weirdest and worst jokes imaginable. I’d been making such progress recently in my attitude, my career and realizing my dreams that it just stood me on my head for a while. “Why me!?” I would cry out, and “Why now!?” Well, I know now there may never be any answers to those particular questions, but maybe in telling a little about myself, we can find some other answers to other questions. That might help our way down our own particular paths, towards realizing my dream of New Hope and New Happiness. Amen. I left in love, in laughter, and in truth and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit.

Hit: Fevered Egos

Hidden Gem: Confession Time (Cops)

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Rocks In The Attic #837: Tame Impala – ‘The Slow Rush’ (2020)

RITA#837Support your local record store, they say. So you do. As much as you can. Until you see New Zealand’s biggest chain-store selling the new 2xLP reissue of James Brown’s Motherlode for just $20, and then all principles go out the window. Take my cash, corporate face of capitalism!

The next logical step is to go one further and purchase directly from the band. Either at the merch table at one of their gigs, or through Bandcamp or the band’s online store. The last time Tame Impala played in New Zealand, I bought a t-shirt from their merch stand. Brilliant. The band get all my money and there’s no middle man.

So, when pre-orders for Tame Impala’s fourth studio album, The Slow Rush, went on sale last year, I jumped at the chance. I could have bought it from my local independent on release day, but I thought that I would continue to support the band by buying from their online store. It was an exclusive colour variant too. Sweet.

RITA#837aValentines Day, the 14th of February 2020, rolls around and the album is released across the globe. In New Zealand, like any other countries, the independent record stores get a push from the band’s label (Universal) who set them up as Tame Impala pop-up stores, with exclusive colour variants of the record, band t-shirts, bags, stickers, etc. A brilliant move, from a band that continues to go from strength to strength.

Almost three weeks later, I receive my LP in the post. Three weeks! That’s a lifetime when you know other people are enjoying it, without going to the steps you did. Grrr. First-world problems and all that, but still… The other possibility is that my delivery was delayed by the postal bottleneck through China as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak. A possibility, yes, but the local record stores all got their stock in advance of release day.

There should be an element of loyalty to those who pre-order from the band’s website, to match the loyalty they’re showing to the band. But still, it’s Universal we’re talking about, who probably operate a hundred other ‘band’ stores, and so I might as well have bought it from my local chain-store in the end. Lesson learned.

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Will I let this affect my thoughts on the album? Possibly. I still rate the Manic Street Preachers’

Know Your Enemy album very poorly on the basis that the record label crammed 75 minutes of music onto just two sides of vinyl. This feels like a similar blunder on the behalf of Tame Impala’s record label. A fuck you to the fans.

On my long awaited first listen to The Slow Rush, Kevin Parker, the man who is Tame Impala in everything from writing, performing, producing and mixing, has continued down the same route as 2015’s Currents. The guitar-oriented sound from his first two albums now seem like a distant memory, and we’re now firmly in a world of drum beats, synths and pianos. If anything, this album sounds like a lot less thought has gone into it than his previous efforts.

Or maybe I’m just bitter.

Hit: Lost In Yesterday

Hidden Gem: Is It True

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