Oh well

For the Things Don’t Change file: Charles Dickens describing the House of Representatives in American Notes:

I saw in them, the wheels that move the meanest perversion of virtuous Political Machinery that the worst tools ever wrought. Despicable trickery at elections; under-handed tamperings with public officers; cowardly attacks upon opponents, with scurrilous newspapers for shields, and hired pens for daggers; shameful trucklings to mercenary knaves, whose claim to be considered, is, that every day and week they sow new crops of ruin with their venal types, which are the dragon’s teeth of yore, in everything but sharpness; aidings and abettings of every bad inclination in the popular mind;, and artful suppressions of all tis good influences; such things as these, and in a word, Dishonest Faction in its most depraved and most unblushing form, stared out from every corner of the crowded hall.

Rather pokey in spots, its score obtrusive, tentatively pessimistic ending patting itself on the bank; yet The Lookout is blessed with three of this year’s best performances: by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, and Matthew Goode. Earlier this year I cited a Slate article that delineated the subtle ways in which Gordon-Levitt uses silence and stillness in place of the Method mannerisms that lots of his peers think guarantees realism (the River Phoenix of Dogfight and My Own Private Idaho approvingly cited the Method in interviews, but his performances in these films are precursors to what Gordon-Levitt’s achieved in Mysterious Skin, Brick, and here). His concentration provides a stable ground on which Jeff Daniels can stink like two-week-old ham and triumph anyway, and Matthew Goode, summoning the prissy murmured vitrol of Richard Widmark, can create the most convincing loser-cum-villain seen in recent months. Just ignore the double-crosses in the second half that doubtless sold the first’s realism. When John Dahl’s your idol, Raoul Walsh’s face is as deadly to the human sight as Jehovah’s.

For all that, the film’s most violent scene is a Thanksgiving dinner at which Gordon-Levitt’s family has to pretend that he’s not a ruined husk. Writer-director Scott Frank’s touch is sure: he doesn’t use the WASP setting for smug laughs; the casting of Bruce McGill — a journeyman supporting actor as strong in My Cousin Vinny as he is in The Insider — as Gordon-Levitt’s father helps. As Frank sees it, good-natured ribbing has rarely curdled so quickly into unpleasantness.

Rather pokey in spots, its score obtrusive, tentatively pessimistic ending patting itself on the bank; yet The Lookout is blessed with three of this year’s best performances: by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, and Matthew Goode. Earlier this year I cited a Slate article that delineated the subtle ways in which Gordon-Levitt uses silence and stillness in place of the Method mannerisms that lots of his peers think guarantees realism (the River Phoenix of Dogfight and My Own Private Idaho approvingly cited the Method in interviews, but his performances in these films are precursors to what Gordon-Levitt’s achieved in Mysterious Skin, Brick, and here). His concentration provides a stable ground on which Jeff Daniels can stink like two-week-old ham and triumph anyway, and Matthew Goode, summoning the prissy murmured vitrol of Richard Widmark, can create the most convincing loser-cum-villain seen in recent months. Just ignore the double-crosses in the second half that doubtless sold the first’s realism. When John Dahl’s your idol, Raoul Walsh’s face is as deadly to the human sight as Jehovah’s.

For all that, the film’s most violent scene is a Thanksgiving dinner at which Gordon-Levitt’s family has to pretend that he’s not a ruined husk. Writer-director Scott Frank’s touch is sure: he doesn’t use the WASP setting for smug laughs; the casting of Bruce McGill — a journeyman supporting actor as strong in My Cousin Vinny as he is in The Insider — as Gordon-Levitt’s father helps. As Frank sees it, good-natured ribbing has rarely curdled so quickly into unpleasantness.

No, the problem with M.I.A.’s Kala is simpler than most of the reasons proffered here: wondrous first half, poor second half, and only two songs sound like sonic and lyrical expansions: the Bollywood neo-disco of “Jimmy” and the somber “Paper Planes,” which relies on a beautiful interpolation of The Clash’s “Straight To Hell.” I’ve warmed to “Mango Pickle Down River” (a skittering update of Another Bad Creation and Musical Youth) and the dense collage that is “Bird Flu.” It’s possible that what sounds to these ears like failed marriages of beats and voice will surrender their charms later in the year.

No, the problem with M.I.A.’s Kala is simpler than most of the reasons proffered here: wondrous first half, poor second half, and only two songs sound like sonic and lyrical expansions: the Bollywood neo-disco of “Jimmy” and the somber “Paper Planes,” which relies on a beautiful interpolation of The Clash’s “Straight To Hell.” I’ve warmed to “Mango Pickle Down River” (a skittering update of Another Bad Creation and Musical Youth) and the dense collage that is “Bird Flu.” It’s possible that what sounds to these ears like failed marriages of beats and voice will surrender their charms later in the year.


A perfect example of an avant-garde band whose most subversive work (to these ears) adapted pop principles is Pere Ubu. Cloudland, my favorite album of theirs, was remastered with bonus tracks a few months ago, after being out of print since the early nineties. Singer David Thomas, gargling and spitting atop producer Stephen Hague’s glistening mix, is especially ghoulish in this context. No way is this as epochal as “Final Solution,” but there’s something to be said about Thomas doing his addled-John Goodman routine over “True Faith” wannabes like “Love Love Love.”

Anyway, I don’t often like to post YouTube clips, but this performance of Cloudland‘s Modern Rock chart hit “Waiting for Mary” (a Top Ten!) on David Sanborn’s “Night Music” has to be one of the most spectacular dadaist spectacles I’ve ever seen. With Deborah Harry on background vocals, Sanborn on sax, and Philip Glass somewhere.


A perfect example of an avant-garde band whose most subversive work (to these ears) adapted pop principles is Pere Ubu. Cloudland, my favorite album of theirs, was remastered with bonus tracks a few months ago, after being out of print since the early nineties. Singer David Thomas, gargling and spitting atop producer Stephen Hague’s glistening mix, is especially ghoulish in this context. No way is this as epochal as “Final Solution,” but there’s something to be said about Thomas doing his addled-John Goodman routine over “True Faith” wannabes like “Love Love Love.”

Anyway, I don’t often like to post YouTube clips, but this performance of Cloudland‘s Modern Rock chart hit “Waiting for Mary” (a Top Ten!) on David Sanborn’s “Night Music” has to be one of the most spectacular dadaist spectacles I’ve ever seen. With Deborah Harry on background vocals, Sanborn on sax, and Philip Glass somewhere.

It depresses me when I agree with Stephen Thomas Erlewine, but he’s right about the underwhelming Garbage compilation. Leading with a minor hit single whose first words are a catchy non sequitur, the collection avoids as much context as possible for their souped-up gothic/Catholic melodrama. And Garbage did/do not exist without context. Song for song the first half is unassailable (“Stupid Girl” and “Special,” neither of which I’d heard in years, sounded good), but as their audience expanded so too did their melodramatic ambitions; it makes no sense to hate them for recording a James Bond song when clearly they, like Duran Duran, were made for the subgenre (all that’s surprising is how limp the results were). Exploiting a forgivable (I hope), youthful penchant for hyperbole, I once tagged Version 2.0 as “the nineties’ Parallel Lines.” Now it’s more like “the nineties’ Automatic (yes, that Jesus & Mary Chain album). Christgau once complimented Debbie Harry’s “vocal gloss” for revealing “nooks of compassion”; meanwhile Shirley Manson is just lucky to have a glossy voice. At her best she’s a compelling cipher who strained to reach heights of cartoonish lust and need (hence the goth comparisons). Not only wouldn’t you take her out to dinner, but you’d think twice about doing her in an alley (the ache in “You Look So Fine” suggests that she hasn’t figured out which she prefers, and we know how het guys feel about women who don’t know what they want). Absolute Garbage reveals less ambiguity than one would like from a band that purportedly recorded classic singles. What’s confusing is how they scored a Top Five debut in 2005.

It depresses me when I agree with Stephen Thomas Erlewine, but he’s right about the underwhelming Garbage compilation. Leading with a minor hit single whose first words are a catchy non sequitur, the collection avoids as much context as possible for their souped-up gothic/Catholic melodrama. And Garbage did/do not exist without context. Song for song the first half is unassailable (“Stupid Girl” and “Special,” neither of which I’d heard in years, sounded good), but as their audience expanded so too did their melodramatic ambitions; it makes no sense to hate them for recording a James Bond song when clearly they, like Duran Duran, were made for the subgenre (all that’s surprising is how limp the results were). Exploiting a forgivable (I hope), youthful penchant for hyperbole, I once tagged Version 2.0 as “the nineties’ Parallel Lines.” Now it’s more like “the nineties’ Automatic (yes, that Jesus & Mary Chain album). Christgau once complimented Debbie Harry’s “vocal gloss” for revealing “nooks of compassion”; meanwhile Shirley Manson is just lucky to have a glossy voice. At her best she’s a compelling cipher who strained to reach heights of cartoonish lust and need (hence the goth comparisons). Not only wouldn’t you take her out to dinner, but you’d think twice about doing her in an alley (the ache in “You Look So Fine” suggests that she hasn’t figured out which she prefers, and we know how het guys feel about women who don’t know what they want). Absolute Garbage reveals less ambiguity than one would like from a band that purportedly recorded classic singles. What’s confusing is how they scored a Top Five debut in 2005.

"Night Runner"

Entertainment Weekly is allowing visitors to stream the new Duran Duran-Timbo-Justin collaboration “Night Runner.” The first fifteen seconds – with the clicks, woodblock percussion, and synth-chime melody – sound like Rich Harrison producing TKA, while the bridge turns into robo-Gibb (as in Barry, Maurice, and Robin). It’s spare, hooky, and insinuating (I can’t wait to hear the inevitable remixes), more vital than anything on Timbo’s recent solo album or even Justin’s “Summer Love,” his least eventful Top Ten. The problem: it sounds like a Justin track on which Simon Le Bon happened to guest (which, for certain people I know, is a good thing). I can understand why Andy Taylor’s talent for whammy-bar abuse made him flip through his Rolodex for Rod Stewart’s phone number.

"Night Runner"

Entertainment Weekly is allowing visitors to stream the new Duran Duran-Timbo-Justin collaboration “Night Runner.” The first fifteen seconds – with the clicks, woodblock percussion, and synth-chime melody – sound like Rich Harrison producing TKA, while the bridge turns into robo-Gibb (as in Barry, Maurice, and Robin). It’s spare, hooky, and insinuating (I can’t wait to hear the inevitable remixes), more vital than anything on Timbo’s recent solo album or even Justin’s “Summer Love,” his least eventful Top Ten. The problem: it sounds like a Justin track on which Simon Le Bon happened to guest (which, for certain people I know, is a good thing). I can understand why Andy Taylor’s talent for whammy-bar abuse made him flip through his Rolodex for Rod Stewart’s phone number.

Simon’s mini review of the Anton Corbijn’s Control has got me very excited, although I worry about a Joy Division that’s “grimly verite and gloriously aestheticized.” I suppose indie’s version of the Jim Morrison myth (the myth, I stress, not the man) deserves its own gloriously aestheticized rendition. Joy Division’s music wasn’t truth or life; it felt like truth, it sounded like life, like an Aeschylus play. That’s why I don’t stump for Ian Curtis like other Bernard Sumner skeptics: these frontmen weren’t Robert Altmans, they were Fritz Langs, illuminating tropes instead of pinning details (NO’s story could be filmed just as well in beautiful monochrome too), recreating Despair and Euphoria instead of describing them.

Now that we’re on the subject, a word here for postpunk England’s Colonel Parker, and a helluva lot more colorful and smart too. No R.I.P.’s — not only don’t I believe in them, but I can’t imagine he’d want to rest peacefully anyway.