Monthly Archives: May 2011

Welcome to the past: Brad Paisley

In 2009 Brad Paisley wrote a song about the significance of Barack Obama’s election called “Welcome to the Future.” Now that 2011 looks more like  “Hello Past” and the beautiful dreams of post-partisanship melted faster than polar ice caps, Paisley himself looks a little dowdy, as shown by opening his new album This is Country Music with the feeblest salvos of his career: an uncharacteristically nervous, tentative title track whose affirmation of so-called country values wipes out the ecumenism of American Saturday Night; and a song called “Old Alabama” that’s not about the state but the bleating beardos who were the early eighties equivalent to Garth Brooks, although it might be, so mild is its conservatism that it can’t be bothered to piss off new liberal fans who’ve never heard “Under the Red White and Blue” and “Okie From Muskogee.”

So charming is Paisley, so prodigious his skill at churning out tunes hooked with Donne-style conceits like “Alcohol,” “Ticks” (check out Donne’s “The Flea” for similar flair), “Water,” and, on TICM, “Toothbrush,” that I’m tempted to dismiss how deftly this dissembler can fag-bait in the mildest way in songs like 2007’s “I’m Still a Guy” yet remind his missus in 2009’s “You Wear the Pants” that he doesn’t mind her in charge. The connective tissue here is sex, and if Paisley’s songs are to be believed he enjoys it a lot, or at least has it enough to imagine bolder, truer to life scenarios. The new album’s “Remind Me” boasts Paisley’s guitar at its most elegiac as it curls around a narrative in which the contemplation of his girlfriend/wife unpeeling her stockings  gets him so hopped up that he can’t stop making out with her while saying goodbye at the airport (she misses her flight, which is not worth a makeout, honestly). With duet partner Carrie Underwood whoopin’ and hollerin’, this is one damn fine anthem, almost the equal of Blake Shelton’s “Who Are You When I’m Not Lookin’,” country’s other great sustained erotic reverie this year. Speaking of machismo, someone ask Paisley what Don Henley is doing on his track except to serve as a Ghost of Music Veteran Future.

Thanks to Paisley’s increased grasp of professionalism, This is Country Music features less filler than ever; but from the songs about girls getting spring break tans to the lame one about the girl dying of cancer, it sounds like retrenchment. The thirty-eight-year-old Paisley, eighteen months after American Saturday Night, is getting too old for this shit (a five-minute instrumental called “Eastwood” is the most exceptional “mature” track). Although “Welcome to the Future” adduced his implicit affinities for Obama, Paisley himself is closer to Bill Clinton: he waffles, he flexes his dimples, he looks you straight in the eye, he courts your vote and checks out your wife’s tits. Paisley still doesn’t make choices — he makes promises, and promises by their nature require exclusion.

Ye gods: Thor

Tom Hiddleston is the best reason to watch Thor. Slight of built and with dark hair slicked back like an otter’s, the Norse god of mischief rarely raises his voice; he’s so self-possessed that he doesn’t need to. You understand why he carries a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder: with a ponderous walrus like Odin as a stepfather (Anthony Hopkins), any twentysomething might wonder whether another god wanted to fuck me over.

The rest of Thor boasts the same rather shoddy CGI values of a would-be franchise biding its time until the grosses are released. Since Kenneth Branagh was not a particularly distinguished director when he was supposedly re-imagining Shakespeare and Hitchcock for American audiences, his “stamp” is non-existent; Odin himself could have directed it from Asgard. Speaking of which, with an almost two hundred million dollar budget I’d have thought Branagh and his production team could design an empyrean that didn’t look like a combination of Narnia and the sets from The Wiz. Also, apparently Norse gods were a more racially integrated bunch than historians have thought: Thor’s crew counts a brunette and an Asian as members, and the Gatekeeper of Asgard is a Carl Weathers type with a glower and manner etched in the Bronx. But neither training nor manner can wither Natalie Portman, who gives one of her worst performances ever and looks smashing while doing so. When she’s supposed to look like she’s having fun, her jaw clenches and eyes go mad like a hyperactive kid on Ritalin; when asked to show Thor (Chris Hemsworth) she’s got the hots for him, she chews the insides of her mouth.

As for Hemsworth, he’s sweet in a lunkheaded way and wears blond bangs like a pro; he’s a believable oaf. But Thor was never one of my favorite Marvel superheroes: his proto-Schwarzeneggar schtick of breaking stuff and acting clumsy around mortals got tiresome, especially since wit and him were only passing acquaintances anyway. That’s why the final confrontation between him and Loki is a hoot: when the nimble Hiddleston, clad in emerald green and brandishing a staff he stole from Narnia’s White Witch, loses it doesn’t seem fair.

When Donna Summer added prominent rock guitars to her sound, the results were uneven. For every “Hot Stuff” and “Cold Love,” there was a “Nightlife,” on which producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellote abandon the experiment at the halfway point and revert to the pre-/post-disco motorik thud they invented.

This rejected track from the shelved I’m a Rainbow, which appeared on the Fast Times at Ridgemont HIgh soundtrack in 1982, is what I want from Summer rocking out. Eschewing Benatar-esque hysterics for a pace and timbre that presents her mid range in the most attractive setting, I can understand why her record company got the jitters.

“The war with the White House only stirred ratings:” Roger Ailes

I should have posted it last week, thus risking the possibility that anyone who cares has read it, but New York‘s profile of Roger Ailes is a must read. The most salient fact should not surprise: Ailes is the GOP’s kingmaker, to whom every candidate must grovel and offer the proper obeisance. The second point should have been obvious to me: Ailes cares about profit more than his political views, and will discard the latter if it interferes with the former:

“He thinks things are going in a bad direction,” another Republican close to Ailes told me. “Roger is worried about the future of the country. He thinks the election of Obama is a disaster. He thinks Palin is an idiot. He thinks she’s stupid. He helped boost her up. People like Sarah Palin haven’t elevated the conservative movement.”

In the aftermath of the Tucson rampage, the national mood seemed to pivot. Ailes recognized that a Fox brand defined by Palin could be politically vulnerable. Two days after the shooting, he gave an interview to Russell Simmons and told him both sides needed to lower the temperature. “I told all of our guys, ‘Shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually.’ ”

The news from America’s Most Trusted News Source isn’t good. Internecine war rages: O’Reilly, who can’t stand Sean Hannity, allies himself with Beck. Shepard Smith, he of the lavender lipstick, thrives as the token liberal. Meanwhile the ratings drop. Regrettably. Should FOX, Sarah Palin, and Rush Limbaugh fade as pinatas for liberals who have no one with whom to rehearse their arguments, will those Tea Party rallies turn deadlier?

Never could learn to love that list and to call it mine

What’s most amusing about TIME’s list of the worst Dylan songs is how they dismiss them with the smug facility the writers used to praise them at the time of their release: “Tight Connection to My Heart,” for example, was in 1985 “a playful bit of lovelorn apocrypha.” My beloved “Tight Connection…”  – one of his best eighties singles, with guitar fills and Dylan phrasing as rewarding as anything from the mid seventies – is many things, but not “apocrypha,” whatever that means in this context. Moreover, if the writers want to dismiss the determined innocuousness of “Wiggle Wiggle,” why ignore the leaden topicality of “Joey” or “Hurricane”? If I had my druthers, half of the boring, obnoxious Desire would make the list.