Monthly Archives: May 2012

Licky as trips: Galore

Amazing what a comp album can do. Stuck in the mephitic ooze of host album Disintegration, “Fascination Street,” “Pictures of You,” and “Lullaby” barely emit a glow; played end to end on Galore, the greatest hits released by The Cure in 1997, they’re expert histrionic pop, flipsides to the euphoria of “Catch” and “Why Can’t I Be You.” Even non-entity “Lovesong” lives. It gets better from there: the Madchester guitar thump of “Never Enough,” the horn-crazed remix of “Close to Me,” the twelve-string goodness of “Friday I’m in Love,” and, best, “High,” in which Robert Smith’s wordplay gets licky as trips as he eulogizes how she purrs and growls over thick bass riffs that Peter Hook never stumbled on.

As big as those singles were on pop and college radio in 1992, I knew even then they represented the end of something. By the time “A Letter to Elise” was released Pearl Jam and the Chili Peppers were already scouring radio clean of oddities like this, and The Cure sounded quaint (the following spring fellow triumvirs New Order and Depeche Mode released in tandem their own followups to breakthroughs). I guess that’s why, boxy production aside, “Mint Car” and “The 13th,” off 1996’s Wild Mood Swings, sound better than I remember (I reviewed the album for my college paper and could barely suppress the snickers). All it’s missing is “This Twilight Garden,” a B-side that is the aural equivalent of a tulip garden in early afternoon sun.

Galore concludes with “Wrong Number,” the first solo Smith songwriting credit since 1985. I doubt the indentured servants in the band would have sent such a brazen wakeup call to an influence — David Bowie in this case, who, abetted by guitarist Reeves Gabrels and bassist Mark Plati, both of whom assist Smith in shaping his track, released his own youth-embracing jungle nod Earthling earlier that year. As the track dissolves in overlapping shards of sound, Smith is left mumbling dumb catch phrases. What a valedictory for the love cat — if he’d been content with this saucer of milk.

The rage of the luxury yacht crowd

Digby tries to figure out what pisses off corporations so much about Obama:

But the fury of the super rich conservatives is a little more baffling. After all, the stock market is doing well. Corporations are making record profits. Income inequality is at record highs, which is great for the luxury yacht crowd. It’s not as if the elite wealthy are suffering under Barack Obama. Even assuming that Mitt Romney would give them even more goodies, that should be a choice between two positives, not a situation demanding no-holds-barred warfare and intense existential rage.

The rage of the Left against the Bush Administration was understandable: with at least one trumped-up war on false pretexts, unprecedented politicization of government offices, rampant lawbreaking, massive new impositions on civil liberties, rollbacks of protections for the environment, women’s rights and the social safety net, the drowning of an entire American city, the attempt to privatize social security, and finally the deregulation-induced crashing of the world’s economy, it’s no surprise the Left felt its back was up against the wall. But the same can’t be said of Obama and the moneyed Right.

What is it, after all, that the Koch brothers could buy under a Romney regime that they can’t buy under an Obama presidency? What threat to them and their purchasing is the ability of teachers to collectively bargain in Wisconsin? Whence this fury?

Wall Street commodities traders and heads of the big banks are upset the president denounces their practices on occasion? Are they stupid enough not to realize the wink-and-nudge games going on?

Blood makes noise: Coriolanus

Playing Voldemort has done wonders for Ralph Fiennes’ acting. No longer burdened with projecting warmth, for which he has neither talent nor forbearance, he can concentrate on the lethal hatred he can squeeze out of his impenetrable blue eyes. Making his directorial debut in John Logan’s adaptation of Coriolanus, Fiennes emphasizes the lacquered, oblong surfaces of his bald head, a relic of the hours spent playing He Who Must Not Be Named in the Harry Potter multiverse. Coriolanus, “not schooled in graceful language,” excels only at spilling blood, beside which the pleasures of the hearth like wife Virgilia (Jessica Chastain) and a son pales, not when he boasts Virgilia (Vanessa Redgrave), a mother whose own monomania is her ecstatic tally of the wounds on Coriolanus’ body, of the men he’s killed for Rome’s sake.

The texture of pre-millennial CNN footage of Srebrenica or Kosovo suffuses this update, in which Fiennes in camouflage fatigues and beret, evoking memories of General Mladić, kills everything in sight, shrugging off wounds like an Avenger. Or like praise from his countrymen. A patrician warrior so proud that he cannot stomach flattery, Corialanus is sickened when reminded of what he knows already; the love of the people, with their bad breath and sickly miens, disgusts him. The paradox that Shakespeare explores is how a man this duty-bound subverts the Republic to which he has devoted his life. He could be a model — a statue worthy of veneration — if politics repelled him less. Fiennes and Logan’s movie understands this. “Must I with base tongue give my noble heart/A lie that it must bear?” Coriolanus cries during one anguished moment.

Easily his finest acting since Quiz Show, Fiennes honors Shakespeare’s conception: he offers no concessions, does not soften Corialanus’ unpleasantness (the famous insult “Triton of the minnows” becomes as intimate as a sonnet). Although Chastain is wan and wilted in the manner of other young actresses cast in modern Shakespearean adaptations (e.g. Irene Jacob in Othello, Julia Stiles in Hamlet), Vanessa Redgrave brings such demotic ease to the verse that her lyric power is astounding in its purity; you understand why she dresses Coriolanus’ wounds and not his wife, why the consuls regard her as a last resort when their would-be hero joins forces with their worst enemy. Brian Cox and Gerard Butler are fine in smaller roles.

The film falters after Coriolanus’ exile; it stops when he tries to find his bearings in Aufidius’ camp. Fiennes’ good instincts for editing wilt. But the shrewdness with which Fiennes stages Coriolanus’ death — it presages what will befall the Republic when another putative icon named Julius Caesar is assassinated — made me wish for Shakespeare movies this alive and so attuned to historical crisscrosses.

“Who should be the next to die”

Let the games begin: the NYT’s comprehensive account of how Obama decides who dies. Thanks to a “legalistic” mind that can both shade and obscure nuance, Obama’s managed to fulfill a few public pledges while still killing more terrorists, keeping black sites open for rendition, and withholding Miranda rights from suspects for as long as possible. An excerpt:

A phalanx of retired generals and admirals stood behind Mr. Obama on the second day of his presidency, providing martial cover as he signed several executive orders to make good on campaign pledges. Brutal interrogation techniques were banned, he declared. And the prison at Guantánamo Bay would be closed.

What the new president did not say was that the orders contained a few subtle loopholes. They reflected a still unfamiliar Barack Obama, a realist who, unlike some of his fervent supporters, was never carried away by his own rhetoric. Instead, he was already putting his lawyerly mind to carving out the maximum amount of maneuvering room to fight terrorism as he saw fit.

It was a pattern that would be seen repeatedly, from his response to Republican complaints that he wanted to read terrorists their rights, to his acceptance of the C.I.A.’s method for counting civilian casualties in drone strikes.

The day before the executive orders were issued, the C.I.A.’s top lawyer, John A. Rizzo, had called the White House in a panic. The order prohibited the agency from operating detention facilities, closing once and for all the secret overseas “black sites” where interrogators had brutalized terrorist suspects.

“The way this is written, you are going to take us out of the rendition business,” Mr. Rizzo told Gregory B. Craig, Mr. Obama’s White House counsel, referring to the much-criticized practice of grabbing a terrorist suspect abroad and delivering him to another country for interrogation or trial. The problem, Mr. Rizzo explained, was that the C.I.A. sometimes held such suspects for a day or two while awaiting a flight. The order appeared to outlaw that.

Mr. Craig assured him that the new president had no intention of ending rendition — only its abuse, which could lead to American complicity in torture abroad. So a new definition of “detention facility” was inserted, excluding places used to hold people “on a short-term, transitory basis.” Problem solved — and no messy public explanation damped Mr. Obama’s celebration.

“Pragmatism over ideology,” his campaign national security team had advised in a memo in March 2008. It was counsel that only reinforced the president’s instincts.

Single reviews 5/25

What a concentration of 5’s!

The Offspring – Days Go By (6)
Alanis Morissette – Guardian (6)
Kitty Pryde – Okay Cupid (6)
Grimes ft. Majical Cloudz – Nightmusic (5)
The Gaslight Anthem – 45 (5)
Pitbull – Back in Time (5)
Girls’ Generation TTS – Twinkle (5)
Die Toten Hosen – Tage Wie Diesen (5)
Rita Ora – How We Do (Party) (3)

Acoustic whimsy: Ram

I tend to prefer Paul McCartney writing daft songs abetted by million-dollar production. When left on his own to make homespun sugar his whimsy is insufferable because inescapable (that’s when you miss John and Geore, never mind Ringo). So I’ve ignored Ram for years — I could afford to, thanks to the efforts of my good friend Alex to include more than half the album alongside twenty other tracks in a CD-R he burned in 2001. Next to the likes of, say, “Daytime Nighttime Suffering” songs like “Smile Away” sounded of a piece. He was also smart enough to omit “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.” Few things excite me in rockcrit than infuriating the sententious, smug likes of Jon Landau and Dave Marsh and while I’m glad the Admiral Halsey part Killed The Sixties Dream it doesn’t mean I have to relive the bad weed trip.

Jayson Green’s review is strong enough to make me reconsider.