The best posthumous albums

My list of album released after the death of a musician or crucial member of a band. I Googled an online list and it was…longer than I thought. Before looking at it I wanted at most ten and got fifteen. I play these.

1. The Notorious B.I.G. – Life After Death (1997)
2. Keith Whitley – I Wonder Do You Think of Me (1989)
3. Aaliyah – I Care 4 U (2002)
4. Janis Joplin – Pearl (1971)
5. Roy Orbison – Mystery Girl (1989)
6. Chris Bell – I Am the Cosmos (1992)
7. John Lennon and Yoko Ono – Milk & Honey (1984)
8. Ray Charles – Genius Loves Company (2004)
9. Gram Parsons – Grievous Angel (1974)
10. Marvin Gaye – Dream of a Lifetime (1985)
11. J Dilla – The Shining (2006)
12. Jimi Hendrix – The Cry of Love (1971)
13. Bob Marley & The Wailers – Confrontation (1983)
14. Johnny Cash – American VI: Ain’t No Grave (2010)
15. Joy Division- Closer (1980)

‘Green Book’ can’t even get racism right

We’ve failed as a nation if we think Hollywood producers should approve dreck like Green Book. Patronizing, obvious, and animated by a contempt for the intelligence of its audience, Green Book will do well at the Academy Awards, and, indeed, was made for peer approval. Peter Farrelly (Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary) looks determined to purge any trace of the raucous comedy of which he’s capable. At least Crash was ambitious. Green Book is that most gruesome of Hollywood hybrids: the comedy with a heart.

That Green Book, named after the twentieth century travel guide for black Americans wanting safe and comfortable passage, insists on the most conventional notions about race relations is one of its grosser ironies. After the nightclub at which he works closes for renovations, Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) lands a job as a driver for pianist/composer Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali). An offer to also assume the duties of tour manager Frank swiftly rejects. An amiable dunce quick with his fists, Frank is the sort of casual racist who throws away the water glasses used by the black handymen who visit his home and barely flinches when relatives suggest there’s something fishy about his wife interacting with those same men. So the pair hit the road, with the polished and scrupulously erudite Doc finessing Frank and the lowbrow Frank reminding Doc of the glories of fried chicken. Along the way, to quote Crimes and Misdemeanors‘ cynical TV producer played by Alan Alda, they learn deep values.

With the extra weight, the pursing of the lips with which actors like Jack Nicholson in Prizzi’s Honor have suggested palookahood, and the infinite variations of his shrug, Mortensen gives another of his renditions of comfortable masculinity. He’s lucky, for Frank on the page is little more than greasy pasta fazool. Called upon to deliver Farrelly’s horrible dialogue with rounded vowels and a worn imitation of what an actor thinks an educated person sounds like, Ali is less comfortable, and who wouldn’t be with the procession of conventions that Farrelly presents as if they were kittens. Racist Southern sheriff? Check. Uptight musicians who learn to accept the lummox? Check. Doc’s wowing the locals with his technique? Check. He even learns to love Little Richard.

Whether critics judge, say, a book or film create in the sixties using the mores of 2018 is a legitimate debate; what isn’t is Green Book‘s pretending that the mores of the early pre-LBJ sixties need no examination. As Frank’s wife Linda Cardellini sits around the kitchen, charmed by Frank’s ghost written letters. Worse, Farrelly refuses to touch Doc’s homosexuality as anything but a plot point (Frank is dispatched to get him out of jail for soliciting in a public toilet). Black, gay, and a musician? In the 1960s? This is a heavy load for a film to carry, let alone an actor of even Ali’s resourcefulness, but it doesn’t matter. All it takes is a scenic road trip through the South for our differences to erode. If they erode fast enough, we might get lucky and be invited to Christmas dinner.


Singles 12/7

Readers Week, a chance for our audience to pitch songs we missed, has often produced many year-end finalists; I appreciate the second listen I gave “Friends Don’t,” more complex than the title suggests.

Click on links for full reviews.

Maddie & Tae – Friends Don’t (7)
fromis_9 – Love Bomb (7)
The Aces – Last One (7)
Elza Soares – Banho (7)
Zeal & Ardor – Built on Ashes (7)
María Del Pilar – Original Dreamers (7)
Letrux – Flerte Revival (6)
Son Lux – Slowly (5)
PBSR – Volcano (4)
MorMor – Heaven’s Only Wishful (4)
Siberia – Cuore di Rovo (4)
HOLYCHILD – Hundred Thousand Hearts (2)
Yves Tumor – Noid (2)

The best of Eric Rohmer

An exquisite miniaturist, Eric Rohmer isn’t steeped in literature so much as infatuated with the rhythm of literature and the patina of respectability that literature can provide. Distinguishing good from great Rohmer, let alone okay Rohmer, requires familiarity with his rhythms. Nevertheless, his peak came in the eighties when an exposure to sunlight and an enthusiasm for young performers coaxed his work into a new tonal complexity (Pauline at the Beach, Full Moon in Paris, the sublime The Green Ray/Summer). Watching A Summer’s Tale several years ago in its first serious American run was one of the highlights of a dull year.

1. The Green Ray
2. A Tale of Autumn
3. My Night at Maud’s
4. A Summer’s Tale
5. Claire’s Knee
6. Pauline at the Beach
7. A Tale of Winter
8. Love in the Afternoon
9. Full Moon in Paris
10. The Lady and the Duke)
11. A Tale of Springtime
12. Boyfriends and Girlfriends

A little bit of ranking Nilsson albums

If I had children, I’d play them The Point! or, indeed, most things the Nilsson catalog. Now I need to hear Nilsson Sings Newman pronto.

1. Nilsson Schmilsson (1971)

Sometimes consensus is correct.

2. Aerial Ballet (1968)

With songs unfolding like short monologues in Off Broadway productions Aerial Ballet is where Nilsson finds his unique voice — in every sense. Creating the impression that he’s a man who, like the Antoine Doinel of Stolen Kisses, keeps himself amused also keeps listeners from noticing his loneliness. The love song to a old desk is more deeply felt than his songs directed at women, maybe because to Nilsson people are inanimate objects too, more ways of keeping himself amused.

3. Knnillssonn (1976)

His last coherent collection is laser-sharp. His confident self-production shows what he learned from Lennon, Gordon Jenkins, etc: the strings with which “I Never Thought I’d Get This Lonely” opens, the cracked harmony vocal; the Latin boogie of “Laughin’ Man”; the closer “Perfect Day,” as fragile as Lou Reed’s. In my half-cocked way, I almost put this album first because it’s not the first album neophytes reach for, and if I have any persuasive ability I’d urge readers to start with Knnillssonn, still found in used record bins.

4. Son of Schmilsson (1972)

A listenable mess. Paul Buckmaster transforms “Spaceman” into a wracked epic; it should be as well known as “Without You.” Giddy with malice, “You’re Breakin’ My Heart” has nothing in common with peace-and-love (George Harrison’s slide reminds listeners of his appearance the year before on “How Do You Sleep?,” itself giddy with malice). A French horn plays the mournful figure in “Turn on the Radio.”

5. Pussy Cats (1974)

(In)famous for the debauched sessions, recounted with amazement by producer John Lennon a half decade later, the released album feels like a salvage. The too pretty for words “Don’t Forget Me” shares space with covers of Jimmy Cliff (poignant) and Dylan (given the Plastic Ono Ban treatment) and originals like “Old Forgotten Soldier,” on which Lennon should’ve done his pal a favor and given that rubble of a voice some honey and tea .

6. The Point! (1971)

Even the interludes don’t get cloying.

Ranking my favorite Depeche Mode

Losing interest after 2005’s “Precious,” as hypnotic as their early best, I know I offer an incomplete list, and that’s fine. Their songs of faith and devotion require such. Their teen devotees understood, especially the claque of L.A. girls whose devotion made possible their breakthrough. I knew Miami girls who loved them DM as much as New Kids on the Block. It inspired the following summation when I reviewed 101 several years ago: the Depeche Mode fantasy was Jordan Knight tying Joey McIntire up while Donnie Wahlberg fucks him with a police baton. Continue reading

The best costume dramas

The critical success of The Favorite made me wonder what period drama combines meticulous art direction and visual design and a similarly ruthless attention to character? My selections hover between the obvious and obscure; I direct readers to Jessica Hausner’s Amour Fou immediately, for example. I define the costume or period drama as a film set before the early twentieth century.

In no order:

1. Dangerous Liasons (1988)
2. The Heiress (1948)
3. A Quiet Passion (2016)
4. The Age of Innocence (1993)
5. Jezebel (1938)
6. Love & Friendship (2016)
7. Fanny and Alexander (1983)
8. Marie Antoinette (2006)
9. Bright Star (2009)
10. Barry Lyndon (1975)
11. The Lady and the Duke (2001)
12. The House of Mirth (2000)
13. The Portrait of a Lady (1996)
14. Amour Fou (2014)
15. The Death of Louis XIV (2017)
16. Gosford Park (2001)
17. A Dangerous Method (2011)
18. The Scarlet Empress (1934)
19. The Duellists (1977)
20. The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974)
21. The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
22. Ran (1985)
23. Napoléon (1927)
24. The Life of Oharu (1952)
25. The Emigrants and The New Land (1971)