Singles 8/31

To say that a leaked track from Jessie Ware’s marvelous Devotion triumphed is like saying the English did okay against the French in the Battle of Agincourt. The high showing of the frequently insufferable Antony Hegarty was the week’s only surprise.

Jessie Ware – Sweet Talk (7)
Ellie Goulding – Anything Could Happen (6)
Cheryl – Under the Sun (5)
Antony and the Johnsons – Cut the World (5)
Flying Lotus ft. Erykah Badu – See Thru to U (4)
Groove Armada ft. Slarta John – Pull Up (4)
Jhené Aiko – 3:16am (4)
Two Door Cinema Club – Sleep Alone (4)
Luan Santana – Te Vivo ( 4)
Aimee Mann – Charmer (2)
Tim McGraw – Truck Yeah (2)
Deadmau5 ft. Gerard Way – Professional Griefers (2)
3OH!3 – You’re Gonna Love This (0)

The archipelago man

Butterflies in the stomach time:

Here’s how Romney would go about “liberating” a company: A private equity firm like Bain typically seeks out floundering businesses with good cash flows. It then puts down a relatively small amount of its own money and runs to a big bank like Goldman Sachs or Citigroup for the rest of the financing. (Most leveraged buyouts are financed with 60 to 90 percent borrowed cash.) The takeover firm then uses that borrowed money to buy a controlling stake in the target company, either with or without its consent. When an LBO is done without the consent of the target, it’s called a hostile takeover; such thrilling acts of corporate piracy were made legend in the Eighties, most notably the 1988 attack by notorious corporate raiders Kohlberg Kravis Roberts against RJR Nabisco, a deal memorialized in the book Barbarians at the Gate.

Romney and Bain avoided the hostile approach, preferring to secure the cooperation of their takeover targets by buying off a company’s management with lucrative bonuses. Once management is on board, the rest is just math. So if the target company is worth $500 million, Bain might put down $20 million of its own cash, then borrow $350 million from an investment bank to take over a controlling stake.

But here’s the catch. When Bain borrows all of that money from the bank, it’s the target company that ends up on the hook for all of the debt.

Now your troubled firm – let’s say you make tricycles in Alabama – has been taken over by a bunch of slick Wall Street dudes who kicked in as little as five percent as a down payment. So in addition to whatever problems you had before, Tricycle Inc. now owes Goldman or Citigroup $350 million. With all that new debt service to pay, the company’s bottom line is suddenly untenable: You almost have to start firing people immediately just to get your costs down to a manageable level.

“That interest,” says Lynn Turner, former chief accountant of the Securities and Exchange Commission, “just sucks the profit out of the company.”

For all their redundant profanity and reliance on spoilers (e.g. sentences or paragraphs that are essentially “Now here’s what makes this guy an asshole…”), Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone stories read like H.P. Lovecraft or J.G. Ballard: a condo balcony with a pleasant couple drinking wine and eating a dog. This latest, about what Bain Capital did to KB Toys and other small fries, is his best in months.

Kendrick Lamar – “Swimming Pool (Drank)”

Although the leap from from ruminative growls in the intro verses to the simulation of drunken abandon in the chorus is well done — I hear early Nas in the way in which he projects gravity without being a motormouth — the Slim Shady voice signifying his conscience is corny, in part because the beats are 2000-era Em. Still, points for teaching without preaching. When he performed it at the Pitchfork Music Festival in July, most of the crowd knew the words!

Social versus economic — the difference is…?

A liberatarian friend wondered why we we waste time arguing about same sex marriage and abortion when we could be discussing “international bond markets and derivatives” or debating what “free market” and “deregulation” mean. The kind of taxonomy that creates impermeable, discrete categories can’t see the economic implications of this news from Jan Brewer’s Arizona:

A new law was signed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on Thursday that has abortion advocates up in arms. The new law, titled Women’s Health and Safety Act deems a woman pregnant 2 weeks before conception.

According to Planned Parenthood of Arizona lobbyist Michelle Steinberg, the law will reduce the amount of time a legal abortion can be obtained by women. Steinberg stated that, the law is our nation’s “most extreme piece of anti-abortion legislation.”

The bill was sponsored by Arizona State Rep. Kimberly Yee. Yee is also an ardent supporter of drug testing anyone who receives welfare assistance. She is considered by some to be an “extremist.”

Steinberg explained the law by saying, “The law defines pregnancy in a way that bans abortion two weeks before the other seven states who have similar laws. It calculates gestational age starting with the first day of the last menstrual period rather than the date of conception.”

The law which should go into effect later this month also now requires any women who want to have an abortion to have an ultrasound 24 hours before the procedure. The current law will allow abortions to be performed up until the time that the fetus could “reasonably survive outside the womb”. This is around 22 to 24 weeks.

No — let’s consider the full implications. A woman has two weeks to confirm that nausea isn’t a result of last night’s meal, get to a doctor if she can afford one, and pay for the results if she can afford them (having the child or aborting it). But this is a mere Social Issue.

We are the dead: Cosmopolis

Sterile. Clinical. Walking dead. The critical line on David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Cosmopolis has used one or more of those words and their synonyms in various combinations, usually in disapproval. But since the eighties Cronenberg films have relied on the oversaturated images and well lit proscenia to create the sense of faint dread akin to an oncologist’s office after hearing the cheerful secretary’s welcome. Cronenberg’s cameras adore the gleam of appliances. Not since Crash has a script provided so many chances to hold up gadgets to the camera: the soundproof limo in which Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson)glides down tumult-filled Manhattan streets boats aqueous plasma screens, black leather seat backs stiff and crinkly enough for the car fetishists of Crash, beautiful crystal tumblers. As usual his eye for décor is the best in an Anglo-American director since Douglas Sirk’s, and sterile and walking dead were hurled at him too.

As long as we’re permitted to watch Pattinson mumble to an ever-present bodyguard (Jay Baruchel) and play with his toys, Cosmopolis is a hoot, a goosier thrill than the terrible Dom DeLillo novel on which it’s faithfully based. It’s a film for which the term “droll” exists. Like David Bowie coldly taking the sights of Nixon’s America in “Young Americans,” Packer thrives on distance, protected by the hundreds of billions he may or may not have. One of the novel and film’s conceits, prescient in the wake of the ongoing global financial meltdown, is to remind us that Packer doesn’t really have any money. Credit default swaps and leveraged risks are simulacra of currency, reminders of liquid assets. At any rate Packer is so detached from his surroundings that he eats at greasy spoons for breakfast and lunch; it’s not slumming, he just doesn’t notice But as he did in Naked Lunch with Judy Davis and Dead Ringers with Genevieve Bujold, Cronenberg casts a couple of stellar actresses who take their turns holding mirrors up to the corpse. While Sarah Gadon can’t find the appropriate notes to strike as Packer’s wife of twenty days, Juliette Binoche has fun writhing on that leather and teasing Pattinson, and Samantha Morton is a riot as Packer’s “ideas consultant,” a breathing dictionary of DeLillo’s received ideas about capitalism. She’s even more zombified than Pattinson — in the best sense.

About twenty minutes too long, Cosmopolis offers the most fulsome compliment a writer will receive: it takes DeLillo’s ideas seriously. Although the victim of perplexed reviews in 2003, the novel is the sort of tract to which devotees of White Noise might be attracted. From Harlot’s Ghost to DeLillo’s own Libra (his best book, better than the cinder block called Underworld), paranoia has produced marvelous inventions in fiction, but it can also curdle into a manner. To prove his point a writer resorts to creep shows. The movie’s conclusion—a fifteen-minute verbal duel between Packer and a former employee who drapes a dirty towel around his head like a wimple, played by Paul Giamatti—works if DeLillo’s thirteen ways of looking at paranoia fascinate you more than me. Giamatti is expert, but for his arias to resound they have to serve as the culmination of a symphonic work in which the forces of anarchy and capitalism aren’t mere noise, aren’t graffiti on a limousine, a cream pie in the face. If Cosmopolis the novel is precious and shallower than intended, then Cronenberg was the ideal adapter.

Singles 8/24

So the Taylor Swift battles continue. Hitting #1 hasn’t changed things a whit: “We Are Never X 2 Ever Getting Back Together” is crap. But it generated superb comments. None worth mentioning, I’m afraid, for the Pussy Riot single.

My Swift blurb was an early draft of a better one.

Click on links for full reviews.

Black Strobe – Boogie in Zero Gravity (7)
Sasha Go Hard – Tatted (6)
Stepdad – Must Land Running (6)
Trey Songz – Heart Attack (5)
Pussy Riot – Putin Zazhigayet Kostri Ryevolyootsiy (5)
Taylor Swift – We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together (5)
Ne-Yo – Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself) – (5)
Amelia Lily – You Bring Me Joy (5)
Something For Kate – Survival Expert (5)
Perfume – Spending All My Time (5)
Mumford & Sons – I Will Wait (5)
Drumsound & Bassline Smith ft. Tom Cane – Through the Night (4)
Redlight – Lost in Your Love (3)
Mariah Carey ft. Rick Ross and Meek Mill – Triumphant (Get ‘Em) (3)
The Script ft. will.i.am – Hall of Fame (2)

Unfinished sympathy: Jessie Ware

She had me in February with “Running,” biting her lip until the point at which she’s ready to lose it all. Leaked tracks “110%” and “Wildest Moments” further deepened Jessie Ware’s commitment to a certain kind of British performer-based soul in which the vocalist’s restraint found its match in arrangements, their antithesis in the lurid melodramas depicted in the lyrics. Listening to the ominous cello and Ware’s cloudbusting vocal in “Night Light,” I thought of the long-lost Shara Nelson, whose pipes lent early Massive Attack their ravaged grace; try to imagine Ware owning “Unfinished Sympathy” (or Nelson singing “110%” in 1991).

But unfinished sympathy is Ware’s game too. When she sings “two wrongs no rights” in “Wildest Moments,” swathed in more echo than the cliffs of Dover she yields enough to tempt the listener but withholds something crucial. You can hear it in the music. There’s some terrific guitar work on this record but not soon after detonating a series of quicksilver runs at the chorus melody line Dave Okumu stops. Elision is Ware’s strategy. The line “Wish that beautiful boy was me” rises to the surface in “Taking in Water” without followup. As far as other comparisons, the Sade ones are defensible if they stop at “Love is Stronger Than Pride” and “No Ordinary Love,” and the comparisons don’t account for the rap in “No to Love.” Or the mysterious falsetto male vocal singing the hook at one point — a totally early nineties Seal vibe. But Ware hurts like Seal never did, loves electronic effects like that Trevor Horn-courting singer-songwriter didn’t; they deepen, as in “Still Love Me,” a choral-in-the-Greek-sense relationship between subject and object, electronically treated male vocals calling and responding to Ware’s commands. Of course there’s a danger Ware’s triumph will curdle into schtick. Let’s not let her forget her wildest moments.

Smalltown boys: Bernie

Watching Bernie, I couldn’t stop thinking of I Love You, Phillip Morris, the ramshackle but vibrant true crime story about a felon who also fools people whom the screenwriters think deserve fooling. As the title character, Jack Black is cute and says his lines slowly like Ernest Borgnine in Marty; he insists on his banality by acting banally. The funeral director, accused of murdering an older consort whom the small town Texans dismiss as a puckered old shrew (an underused Shirley MacLaine), is so smarmy about his charity that there isn’t a single moment of ambiguity. Black doesn’t help. The moment I saw him in his comb-over and Tom DeLay mustache I knew director Richard Linklater wasn’t interested in anything deeper than an SNL sketch (the same trouble afflicted Matt Damon in Soderbergh’s check-out-the-exclamation-point The Informant!). As he’s demonstrated in Dazed and Confused, the Before series, and Me and Orson Welles, Linklater is peerless at using peripheral characters as choruses, commenting on the action without being ridiculed for their provincialism. Almost half the movie he devotes to residents of the Texas town in which Bernie purportedly hoodwinks the lot of them, and they come off as rubes and eccentrics. It’s not Linklater’s fault — the script loves the surface it’s content to glide on. If you cast Shirley MacLaine, the greatest living bullshit detector, give her better material than articulated scowls and mous. With Matthew McConaughey as the district attorney who busts Bernie.

Mt Rushmore – Part Three

I’ll take this one literally: four top Prince songs, as in “four Prince songs you should check out.”

1. “The Morning Papers” (Love Symbol, 1992). A lovely horn section, crunchy solo, and the lyric “IF they pour his heart into a glass and offered it like wine” adorn this midtempo rocker that sounds exactly like what it was: a fourth single.

2. “17 Days” (“Let’s Go Crazy” b-side, 1984). The apex of Prince’s Linn drum obsession. Of course it was a b-side: he was writing shit like this for Sheila E and The Time at the rate of one a day. And why not with a melody this insinuating?

3. “Mountains” (Parade, 1986). As revolutionary as “Kiss” in its own way. How do you “do” minimalist falsetto-anchored funk and brass and multitracked vocals?

4. “Bambi” (Prince, 1979). A first draft of what he’d perfect on 1980’s “When U Were Mine,” this song lets Prince’s guitar unleash the anger that the later song sublimates in New Wave beats and synths. And there was no “he” sleeping in between the two of them.

Mt. Rushmore – Part Two

Four top drinks:

1. Macallan 12. The late Christopher Hitchens was right: a taste for single malt scotch is dangerous because it spoils you for anything else.

2. Hendrick’s martini with a twist. Suitable only before dinner or a nightcap. The lemon cuts into the barest hint of sweet in my favorite gin. For a different experience, substitute one part of vermouth for the St. Germain and two drops of lemon for the twist. The best combination of sweet and tart since Dolly Parton.

3. Old-Fashioned. An aperitif on which you certainly don’t want to get hammered. The ideal chilling-with-friends-on-the-back-porch cocktail.

4. Ketel One on the rocks. Senescence has made metabolizing a Bombay Sapphire and tonic hard. Don’t blame the gin: it’s the sugar in the tonic water (hello, high fructose corn syrup!). Thus, I’ve developed a taste for chilled vodka.

Mt Rushmore – Part One

I thank Eric Harvey for this ideal late afternoon bored-at-work exercise.

Four top Jam-Lewis productions

1. The S.O.S. Band – “Just Be Good to Me.” As much for allowing Mary Davis to simmer, caught between lust and masochism.

2. (tie) Alexander O’Neal – “Sunshine”; Human League – “Human”; Janet Jackson – “Come Back To Me”; and Ralph Tresvant – “Sensitivity.” Essentially they wrote the same ballad for four quite different artists but occupying a still center in the pools of Jam-Lewis’ rippling pools of keyboards — a phantom of domesticity and hearth fires burning that their singers never stop evoking.

3. Johnny Gill – “Rub You The Right Way.” It sweats, it struts, it strokes. Also rubs.

4. Janet Jackson – “Control.” Jackson could be a feeble vocalist but Jam-Lewis, working with their greatest muse, does a star turn that is the ne plus ultra of how to do an eighties production.