Monthly Archives: April 2020

Rocks In The Attic #851: Various Artists – ‘Pineapple Express (O.S.T.)’ (2008)

Okay, quiz time. Thinking about films that have emerged from the Judd Apatow camp, have a guess at the number of years that separate Knocked Up and Superbad? The first being Seth Rogen’s breakthrough as a credible leading man in Hollywood, and the second his breakthrough as a comedic writer alongside screenwriting partner Evan Goldberg.

The answer? Just eleven weeks. In the UK, where I saw both at the cinema, the distance was even shorter – just three weeks.

It feels incredible that two such strong comedies were released within earshot of each other. In my memory they’re separated by a couple of years, time enough to first accept Rogen as a force in Hollywood comedy before welcoming a film written by him.

It’s not hard to see Judd Apatow as this generation’s James L. Brooks. Both are comedy writer/director/producers, starting their career in television and ending up in film. Both have strong comic chops, with their heartwarming brand of comedy treading a fine line between laughs and tears. And both have fostered young and upcoming talent within their ranks.

RITA#851bIf anybody has emerged as the shining beacon of light from Team Apatow, it’s the writing partnership of Rogen and Goldberg. Childhood friends in Vancouver, Canada, they co-wrote an early draft of Superbad at the age of 13, before Rogen’s acting career took off as part of the ensemble cast in Apatow’s Freaks & Geeks.

Rogen appeared in a couple of early Apatow film –  Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy and The 40-Year-Old Virgin – before he was cast as the lead opposite Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up. Shortly thereafter, the Apatow-produced Superbad cemented Rogen’s position as a major comedy player in Hollywood.

And so we arrive at Pineapple Express. Not a perfect film, by any measure, but still a breath of fresh air after the tentpole comedies that preceded it in the summer of 2008: Adam Sandler in You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, Mike Myers in The Love Guru and Eddie Murphy in Meet Dave.

RITA#851aRogen and Goldberg’s second writing collaboration finds Rogen acting alongside his Freaks & Geeks cast-mate Dave Franco. Rogen plays to what was swiftly becoming his type: a schlubby loser in a dead-end job with no prospects. He plays a legal process server (“You’ve been served”) who witnesses a murder and enlists the help of his drug dealer (Franco, also playing to type) and another drug contact (Danny McBride), to evade the Mr. Big (Gary Cole) who’s behind it all.

It’s a nice little film, as long as you don’t think too much about it. The supporting cast is great, particularly those who by now were becoming Apatow regulars: Craig Robinson, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, Kevin Corrigan and Justin Long. The remarkable thing about the film though is the quality of the cinematography. The film stock has the same graininess as Superbad, making it look like it belongs in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s. This hasn’t been lost on Rogen, who said ‘even people who hate the movie admit that it’s shot well.’

I can’t remember why I bought the soundtrack, released on green grass marble double vinyl for 2017’s Record Store Day, but I’m glad I did. Not only does it include stone-cold bangers like Eddy Grant’s Electric Avenue (‘BOY!’), Robert Palmer’s Woke Up Laughing, and Bird’s Lament by Moondog & The London Saxophonic, but it also includes a classic-in-the-making theme song by Huey Lewis & The News. The only thing missing is Paper Planes by M.I.A., a highlight of the film trailer, but which didn’t end up in the resulting film.

Hit: Electric Avenue – Eddy Grant

Hidden Gem: Pineapple Express – Huey Lewis & The News

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Rocks In The Attic #850: Tears For Fears – ‘The Hurting’ (1983)

RITA#850One of the good things to come out of the Coronavirus lockdown was the ability for musicians to sit and record performances at home. One of my favourites was a video of Curt Smith from Tears For Fears, performing an acoustic version of Mad World with his daughter: such great harmonies on a song that continues to evolve through the years.

It’s hard to talk about this album, the band’s debut, without mentioning Donnie Darko. Prior to Richard Kelly’s film, Pale Shelter might have been regarded as the stand-out track on the record, even though Mad World was its highest-charting single. Looking back, even though the version re-recorded version by Michael Andrews for the Donnie Darko soundtrack is stripped back to its bare elements, there’s still something charming in the original’s childlike structure. It’s almost a throwaway piece of synth-pop, as simple and effective as Shout, the song that opened their next album, Songs From The Big Chair.

Of the two albums, I prefer Songs From The Big Chair. The songs feel elemental, as though their accessing another plane entirely and the production is just better, more assured. There are elements of The Hurting which feel underdeveloped and rushed, although I’m sure some Tears For Fears fans will prefer this unvarnished version of the band.

Hit: Mad World

Hidden Gem: The Hurting

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Rocks In The Attic #849: The J.B.’s – ‘Doing It To Death’ (1973)

RITA#849The J.B.’s second album proper, Doing It To Death finds the band following their 1972 debut with another set of future funk classics.  This time, despite the band being essentially an instrumental outfit, their bandleader James Brown is present and correct on most of the tracks. He leads the charge on the swing of the ten-minute title track, and on the album’s repetitive glimpses of the political You Can Have Watergate Just Gimme Some Bucks And I’ll Be Straight.

At the top of More Peas, James asks the rest of the band ‘Can we do it again?’ in a call and response chant, evoking the opening of the previous album’s Pass The Peas. It’s an odd move to suddenly join his backing band on their ‘instrumental’ side-project, given that the reason for the spin-off band in the first place was a loophole around his record company not allowing his vocal on too many records each year.

Hit: Doing It To Death (Parts 1 & 2)

Hidden Gem: More Peas

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Rocks In The Attic #848: Various Artists – ‘T2 Trainspotting (O.S.T.)’ (2017)

RITA#848Filming a sequel to one of the greatest films of the 1990s sounds like a bad idea, even when the same director and writing team are involved. Imagine if Quentin Tarantino decided to film a sequel to Pulp Fiction, or David Fincher made Fight Club 2. Sometimes the brilliance of a film relies on the characters existing within the confines of said film, and the film itself existing in the time it was released. To go back and revisit feels like a fool’s errand.

The idea for a sequel to Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting started with Irvine Welsh’s follow-up to his original 1993 novel. Released in 2003, Porno revisits the characters from the first book, and describes the gang’s attempts to break into the world of pornography. While a direct follow-up to the novel of Trainspotting, it also takes ideas from the film adaptation and exists as a sequel to both.

To pull the original team and cast together for the film sequel is a remarkable achievement in itself. Joining director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge are all the principle cast members from the 1996 film: Ewen McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle and Ewen Bremner. In the intervening years McGregor had become a Jedi, Miller had married Angelina Jolie, Carlyle had become a Bond villain and Bremner had become a character actor for hire in Hollywood.

When I met Danny Boyle at the New Zealand premiere of T2 Trainspotting, I told him I was glad he hadn’t taken Welsh’s Porno as the basis for the script. ‘Yeah, it’s not one of his best novels at the end of the day,’ he replied. Hollywood has already done that sort of thing anyway, I added. “Yeah, you’re right” he said, catching my drift. “A couple of years ago there was a glut of films with a similar premise, like We Made A Porno [Zack And Miri Make A Porno].”

Instead, Hodge’s script begins with Mark Renton’s nostalgic trip back to Edinburgh from Amsterdam, where he’s been living for the last twenty years. Simon ‘Sick Boy’ Williamson is a scam-artist, working alongside his Bulgarian girlfriend Veronika. Francis Begbie is serving a lengthy prison sentence, and Daniel ‘Spud’ Murphy is still addicted to heroin and suicidal following the separation from his wife and teenage son.

The film does play with our nostalgia for the first film, but it never fees mawkish. The lead characters have all grown up, but the situation they find themselves in feels relevant. Sick-Boy’s scam – filming businessmen in hotels with Veronika and subsequently blackmailing them with the footage – isn’t glamorised, and starts to fail just as Renton returns. Spud is at his lowest ebb, with his suicide letter to Gail providing the heartbeat of the film and kick-starting a raft of reminiscences of years gone by. Begbie, unsurprisingly locked up at her majesty’s pleasure, organises an injury from a fellow inmate so he can then escape from the hospital. There’s no real reason for his escape, and on the outside he reverts back to his old ways, bringing his unenthusiastic son to burgle houses in the dead of night.

RITA#848aTo compliment Spud’s nostalgic writings, footage from the first film is also used sparingly. Spud leaves a boxing gym, and finds himself on the same street he ran down with Renton, running from security guards from where they’ve just shoplifted. In another moment, Sick-Boy reminds Renton of Tommy, the friend he introduced to heroin, ultimately killing him. Renton returns the guilt-trip, reminding Sick-Boy of the infant he left to die in their squalid flat.

Interspersed in the film are some brilliant shots of younger versions of the main characters, which begins with the opening credits portraying the main characters as schoolchildren. In a later memory, we see Renton and Sick-Boy scoring their first hit, and a memorial trip to the countryside to honour Tommy reflects an earlier trip with Tommy in tow.

There are also plenty of subtle references to the first film. When Renton enters a nightclub toilet and sees the disgusting state of the toilets, it echoes the moment in the first film where he visits a horrific pub toilet to empty his bowels (and unintentionally lose his suppositories). During the final confrontation with Begbie, Renton crawls out of a hole onto the roof of Sick-Boy’s pub in exactly the same way he emerged from that original Brian Eno-soundtracked toilet-dive. Upon his return to his childhood bedroom, he flicks through the LPs on the floor and drops the needle on Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life before abandoning it on the first drumbeat.

Film sequels shouldn’t be this good. It’s a massive credit to Danny Boyle that not only could he bring everybody back to Edinburgh, but that he could helm a film that’s so reverent to its past and so fresh and innovative at the same time.

The soundtrack manages to do the same, with nostalgia (Queen’s Radio Ga Ga, Blondie’s Dreaming and Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax) sitting firmly alongside newer songs (Young Father’s Get Up, Fat White Family’s Whitest Boy On The Beach and High Contrast’s Shotgun Mouthwash). Most impressive is the soundtrack’s bookended homages to the breakout songs from the first film’s soundtrack: the Prodigy’s remix of Lust For Life, and Underworld’s chopped and screwed remix of their Born Slippy classic, Slow Slippy.

Hit: Radio Gaga – Queen

Hidden Gem: Silk – Wolf Alice

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Rocks In The Attic 847: Muse – ‘Simulation Theory’ (2018)

RITA#847Who would have thought that Muse would ever record a great album again?

After a tepid trio of albums – 2009’s The Resistance, 2012’s The 2nd Law, and 2015’s Drones, all of which took the band’s prog-rock into Euro-pop territory – Simulation Theory feels like a return to their roots. Of sorts.

The over-reliance on drum-machines and synths is still there, but the songwriting harkens back to classic-era albums – 2001’s Origin Of Symmetry, 2003’s Absolution, and 2006’s Black Holes And Revelations – and stops the record sounding like second-rate Eurovision entries from Scandinavia.

RITA#847aYou only have to go as far as the chorus of The Dark Side – ‘Break me out / Break me out / Let me flee’ – and you’re immediately transported to those albums from the early 2000s. Yes, it might sound like Muse-by-numbers, and the band can still sound a little cheesy – the backing vocals to Pressure sounds like the efforts of a Queen tribute act, and I’m sure Gorge Michael’s lawyers perked their ears up when they heard Dig Down – but I’m just glad we’re finally out of the fallow years.

I still get email newsletters from the band, and they look as ridiculous as ever in the accompanying photos, but I don’t care as long as they still sound like the band that hooked me back in 1999.

Hit: The Dark Side

Hidden Gem: Algorithm

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Rocks In The Attic #846: Night Beats – ‘Who Sold My Generation’ (2016)

RITA#846I found this record in the digital equivalent of a sale bin. I’d admired the record cover before, but didn’t know anything about the band. A psych-rock band from Seattle, they sound far different to what I was expecting, what with the obvious reference to the Who in the album title, and the Who’s Next colour-scheme of the cover.

This, the band’s third studio album, features Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Robert Levon Been on bass, and you have to wonder how much his presence influenced the album cover. It definitely looks like the sort of image you more likely to see on the cover of a BRMC release. The album covers for Night Beats’ first two efforts – 2011’s self-titled debut, and 2013’s Sonic Bloom – definitely look more like what you’d expect from a psych band. All wishy-washy colours and the vague threat of hallucinogenics.

RITA#846aNext to a few moody black and white photos of the band on the rear cover are some typically overcooked liner notes. ‘Through all the echo chambers, broken sound barriers and miscarried choruses, the sons and daughters of the sold generation wash onto the shore intact,’ it begins. The preposterousness ends with ‘Let me play on, like the fool does. Let the fields burn, the apparition lurk and the tower fall. The hands are dealt and the king is dead.’

Music-wise, the album contains some great songs but the whole thing feels underproduced…or just recorded quickly, and on the cheap. Any brilliance in the songs is immediately diminished by it sounding too similar to the one that’s just finished. Fourth album Myth Of A Man (2019) sounds like a more interesting proposition: produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach and featuring a backing-band made up of old-time session musicians for Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin.

Hit: Power Child

Hidden Gem: Egypt Berry

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Rocks In The Attic #845 Bruce Springsteen – ‘Born In The U.S.A.’ (1984)

RITA#845It’s taken me about 36 years to figure out that Born In The U.S.A. is a deeply boring song. It’s one of two Springsteen tracks that gets played heavily at our morning bootcamp sessions – the other one being the evergreen banger Born To Run – but I’ve only just started to break Born In The U.S.A. down. It’s funny what starts going through your mind when you’re doing what feels like endless burpees.

Led by a great keyboard riff – DURR durr durr durr durr DURR – the song blows its load in the first few bars. The rest of the band join in, with some big ‘80s drums, and Bruce harps on about joining the army and then coming home to work in a factory. And that’s about it. There’s no change to that DURR durr durr durr durr DURR motif; it does break down at one point, before the rest of the band jump back in, but there’s no variation. The chorus repeats the same musical figure as the verses, and there’s no middle-eight or bridge to speak of. Which is ironic as Bruce could have sung about how he worked on that bridge when he came back from ‘Nam.

RITA#845aA whopping seven singles were lifted from the album over an 18-month timeframe. After the title track, the two better-known ones are Dancing In The Dark and Glory Days, but you have to wonder what they saw in songs like I’m Going Down and My Hometown, aside from a simple drive to keep people buying the record.

The finest song on the album for me is I’m On Fire, a weirdly ominous track about lusting after a ‘little girl’ whose Daddy left her all alone. Aside from the questionable lyrics, it’s the one song that doesn’t sound as ‘stadium rock’ as the rest of the album.

And of course, it sounds better sped up to 45rpm where it sounds like the best song Dolly Parton ever recorded.

Hit: Born In The U.S.A.

Hidden Gem: Downbound Train

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