In a career of autograph hound hysteria and enthusiastic bootlicking, this sentence by Kathryn Jean-Lopez is breathtaking in how badly it missed the point, in response to Barack Obama’s claim, during his acceptance speech, that “we are a better country than this”: “I don’t know if you win an election making people ashamed of themselves and our country.”

Marcello Carlin’s new blog examines, with his typical daft scrupulousness, every number one album on the UK chart. I pick up on his distillation of the appeal of Frank Sinatra’s Songs For Swingin’ Lovers!, one of the man’s many triumphs but still, to my ears, his most poised and insouciant recording. Writing about the interplay between arranger Nelson Riddle and Sinatra, Marcello writes:

Riddle’s triumph lies in the fact that his arrangements and orchestra speak to and with Sinatra, answer him back, such that there is the feeling of an ongoing conversation – barroom or otherwise – seldom found in pop at the time. The opening “You Make Me Feel So Young” very properly sounds like a shiny, yellow herald of a new and better world; Harry “Sweets” Edison acts as Sinatra’s unspoken conscience almost throughout, adding his muted trumpet comments to nearly every track, but look also at Riddle’s subtle use of flutes, for instance; on “So Young” they flutter like autumn leaves in response to Sinatra’s “old and grey” and at other times talk in the manner of the woman who is making him so happy. There is a beautiful inevitability about Riddle’s build-up, especially when the cathartic bells materialise at the request of Sinatra’s “bells to be rung” to say, away with the war, with the old, with paying back, with saying sorry; now and tomorrow are what count, the new marriage made in post-war heaven, a beauty so cherishable that you can easily excuse and understand Sinatra singing “you make me feel so spring has sprung” in the second verse.

So deservedly does Sinatra’s voice get the lion’s share of attention that his role as bandleader — his understanding of how instrumental coloration deepened the emotional chords he was wringing from that voice — gets too little attention (a funny anecdote in Bill Flanagan’s chronicle of U2 in the studio and on the road At The End of the World shows the band clearly shocked that, when Sinatra joins them in the dressing room in 1987, he knew so much about music and music-making; apparently no one ever talked about music with Sinatra). Personal favorite: “Too Marvelous For Words.”

On my iPod, I’ve got Wire’s “One of Us” and David Byrne-Brian Eno’s “Strange Overtones” back to back, unintentionally. The ByrneEno track is obviously about the act of creating music; the Wire song is too. Opening with a bass hook that’s instantly the catchiest thing this Calvinist foursome has come up with since 1988’s “Kidney Bingos,” and a first line that spells out their intentions as clearly as if Pink Flag was recorded in 2007 (“Can’t make it plainer”), Wire carve out a piece of agitated agit-pop whose arrangement is a capitulation and delineation. It’s about the band’s relationship with its audience, and a dry acknowledgment of what we expect from Wire: mystery, aural and lyrical, coated with ugly vocals and a guitar tone that, in 1977 and now, sounds Pro Tooled within an inch of its life. Their music is all strange overtones. Vocalist Colin Newman seems as human as Byrne has since 1983 copping to insecurities like “Are you an also-ran/Finished, inconsequential?” (Answer: not quite). Since ByrneEno collectively and separately have meant more to me over the years than Wire, I’m inclined to prefer their small triumph, especially when they harmonize over the chorus : if you think Newman’s transformation from Tin Man is something, you’ll really dig how vulnerable Byrne sounds singing at the top of his range on the verses.

From Woody Allen’s Spanish diary:

JULY 3

Scarlett came to me today with one of those questions actors ask, “What’s my motivation?” I shot back, “Your salary.” She said fine but that she needed a lot more motivation to continue. About triple. Otherwise she threatened to walk. I called her bluff and walked first. Then she walked. Now we were rather far apart and had to yell to be heard. Then she threatened to hop. I hopped too, and soon we were at an impasse. At the impasse I ran into friends, and we all drank, and of course I got stuck with the check.

JULY 15

Once again I had to help Javier with the lovemaking scenes. The sequence requires him to grab Penélope Cruz, tear off her clothes and ravish her in the bedroom. Oscar winner that he is, the man still needs me to show him how to play passion. I grabbed Penélope and with one motion tore her clothes off. As fate would have it she had not yet changed into costume, so it was her own expensive dress I mutilated. Undaunted I flung her down before the fireplace and dove on top of her. Minx that she is, she rolled away a split second before I landed causing me to fracture certain key teeth on the tile floor. Fine day’s work, and I should be able to eat solids by August.

Enjoying, after fitful attempts, the copy of Bonnie Raitt’s Luck of the Draw that I bought in April for just over 12 cents, I wondered why it’s taken me so long. She’s made a couple of classic albums that show up on many all-time lists; she’s a role model for women playing slide guitar; she scored one of the great, if not THE great, Grammy upset of the last two decades, and its subsequent commercial enshrinement; I admire how LOTD humbly includes self-written compositions with covers, John Hiatt boilerplate, and L.A. songs-for-hire — a model that I wish more men would follow (there’s a fascinating essay to be written about the ease with which female artists from Aretha to Rosanne Cash include their own songs as afterthoughts on their classic recordings). What’s not to love? Maybe she’s too damn tasteful; there’s little sense that she’s an artist whose well-documented personal excesses dovetailed with aesthetic overreach. In any case, LOTD offers lots of pleasures. Even in high school, during the summer when The KLF’s “3 AM Eternal” and Crystal Waters’ “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)” struggled to relieve Bryan Adams’ Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves horror from the Number One slot, I thought that “Something To Talk About” was a well-deserved hit; it’s sexy in an adult, fully cognizant way. You’d have to go back to Fleetwood Mac’s “Little Lies” to find a Top Five hit sung by a fortysomething woman this sly. “I Can’t Make You Love Me” takes static melancholia to a new peak. “All At Once” and “One Part Be My Lover” are the keepers: anchored by Raitt’s own electric piano, she deepens the middle-aged euphoria of “Something To Talk About” with shrewd remarks about fights with her grown daughter and accepting the limitations of her aging body. At any rate, now I’m very curious. Recommendations besides the ones I know?

Dennis Perrin’s dyspepsia is where I’m at these days:

My inbox fills with liberal “alerts” and related wailing about the pro-McCain media, how unfairly Obama’s being treated, and yappity yap yap yap. Jesus, I swear on what little honor I possess that I honestly want Obama to win the election. Hell, I may actually break down and vote for him if the polls look tight. Not that I have any serious belief in Obama the Change Genie. Too many hands rubbing that lamp as it is. No, I simply cannot stomach another four years of liberal self-pity. Plus, I’m anxious to see liberals supporting imperial war and making excuses for the state.

Some believe that a President Obama will disillusion his liberal supporters. I think the opposite will happen — that libs will embrace a warmongering mule prez. I remember when New York Dem Liz Holtzman defended Bill Clinton’s bombing of Serbia on some cable chatfest, calling critics of that “humanitarian” exercise un-patriotic, insisting that the president must be fully supported during a time of war, etc. It was delicious to see. I want more of that in the next four years. The reactionaries have had their fun. Let liberals swim in the blood for awhile.

The purging of the Justice Department of career lawyers, the rewriting of scientific and environmental studies, our failure to observe the Geneva Convention, and, oh, right, torture are matters of such importance that I’ll overlook liberal self-pity. Maybe I’ll even join them.

The false dichotomy between European hedonism and American psychotherapy aside, Vicky Cristina Barcelona really does live up to the hype as Woody Allen’s best movie since at least Sweet & Lowdown, and the best use of a big-name cast since Husbands and Wives (I worried that Patricia Clarkson would head down the same road as Claire Bloom, Helena Bonham-Carter, and Uma Thurman, until Allen lets her gobble a scene or two in the last third). To continue the superlatives, it’s also got, in Penelope Cruz, the most intense performance in an Allen project since Judy Davis’ in H&W. With long (dark) unkempt hair, a snarl that looks blowtorched, shouting Spanish imprecations, she’s mercurial and brilliant, eyes ever on the alert for a slight or for a possibility — any possibility. When she enters, she turns an okay movie into a very good one. Allen is such a didactic filmmaker that he casts Scarlet Johansson in as (blond) mercurial counterpoint, the American kind. Her chemistry with Javier Bardem redeems nearly every musty idea about art and libertinism they’re forced to utter; Bardem’s thick eyeballs, heavy with erotic languour, soften the thud of lines praising wine and love that are the equivalent of September‘s “Let’s go to the city — I want to catch that Kurosawa film festival” routine. Even Woody’s rehash of the Mary Beth Hurt wheeze from Interiors — the absurd archetype of a woman whose mere talent and sensitivity inhibits her from artistic expression — is in Johansson’s hands kinda charming; he pokes gentle fun of her while shooting her ravishingly. This is the first movie in which her heavy-footedness and limited acting chops are an asset. Never mind what Armond White tells you: Eric Rohmer never had the fortune of shooting Johansson and Cruz on a hillside picnic, beneath an overcast sky.

Since it’s Florida…

…it must be hurricane season. The latest is Tropical Storm Fay. This one is a rainmaker and an annoyance, not a disaster like Hurricanes Katrina or Wilma. I’ll read, listen to Lindsey Buckingham’s Law and Order, prepare pork chops and black beans with rice, and venture out to a movie tomorrow if no drowned Muscovy ducks wash up on my doormat.

How on earth do you explain this oddly defensive review of James Wood’s How Fiction Works? If Walter Kirn hasn’t read Henry James or Homer, maybe he shouldn’t use the anti-intellectual tropes of mainstream politicos. I mean — Wood “flashes the Burberry lining of his jacket whenever he rises from his armchair to fetch another Harvard Classic”? Really? In Kirn’s estimation, people like Wood who care about literature are “vicarish,” and “sequestered in [their] chamber[s].” How is this different from dismissals of Adlai Stevenson as an “egghead” or Johns Kerry and Edwards for looking and acting “French”? Finally, I’ll give a dollar to anyone who can safely interpret this line: “Part of the fiction writer’s true vocation appears to be acoustic regulation — the engineering of a mental space in which literary whispers can be heard.” With appraisals like this, who needs enemies?

In accordance with this meme, here’s my pick for the worst alt-rock classic of the nineties. Maybe it’s no classic, but The Cranberries’ “Zombie” was Number One for several weeks on the college charts in the fall of 1994, and was inescapable for months afterwards; its “ZOMBIE-AH!” hook segued without a hitch into Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” the following summer. While “Dreams” and “Linger” were plaintive little morsels somewhat overrated in 1993, “Zombie” launched Dolores O’Riordan into depths of sincerity and meaningfulness not seen since Natalie Merchant tackled white imperialism on 10,000 Maniacs’ “Hateful Hate” in 1989. The best example of this song’s awfulness is how witlessly O’Riordan’s lovely pipes crash against the thud of the power chords: it’s like hearing Dusty Springfield backed by KISS. What’s this farrago about? I don’t know, and neither did its fans, many of whom were so taken that they confused exoticness with originality, as they did a few months earlier with the Crash Test Dummies’ “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” (what an awful year for alt-rock number ones).