Wednesday, May 11, 2022

speak-sing / print-head

Here's a piece I did for Tidal looking at the roots - in postpunk, New Wave and Britrap - of the current speak-sing wave (which includes some of the most entertaining music of recent times and some of the most irritating).  I also made a playlist tracing the lineage from M.E.S. to Legss, mostly Brit but with  occasional dishonorary Americans included. 

I was invited by Pierluigi Ledda, co-founder with his wife Francesca of Reading Room, a bookshop and cultural space in Milan, to contribute to their website feature Love At First Browse - in which guest writers and culture-workers talk about 3 magazines that have meant the most to them. Didn't seem quite right to include Melody Maker during my era, but two others I've contributed to made the cut and I doubt you'll have much difficulty guessing the other one. Here's my choices

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Bob 'n' Barry

Bob Stanley has a new book just out (Let's Do It - about the prehistory of pop, it looks really interesting). But he also has a new compilation out - or perhaps I should say collection, as it's focused on a single artist: John Barry. The More Things Change: Film, TV & Studio Work 1968-1972 is a great-sounding slab of peak JB. 

Reading Bob's liner note, I was fascinated to learn that the teenage Barry's love of soundtracks was ignited through his dad's being the owner of a chain of cinemas. He'd sit in the projection room of the York Rialto, assimilating the emotional grammar of film music through exposure to scores and scores of scores. 

Another thing that caught my eye was Bob's reference to Walkabout as "possibly the most beautiful John Barry score of all."   Now this happens to be my fervent belief, but it's a conviction based mostly on pure faith, since I've not done the exhaustive study of  the JB uuurv that Bob's done. So that was reassuring! 

The More Things Change includes two selections from the Walkabout OST (mystifyingly never released at the time, it existed briefly as a bootleg some years after the event, then came out as proper reissue in 2016) and they are "Theme from Walkabout," a shatteringly poignant piece that can reduce me to a blubbering mess, and "The Children", stirring and pure-hearted.   Here's what I wrote about Walkabout for Pitchfork's best soundtracks / best scores lists of a few years ago: 

In Nicolas Roeg’s 1971 film, two British children stranded in the outback are rescued and guided back to “civilization”  by an indigenous Australian boy. Scare quotes around the C-word, for Walkabout is a rhapsodic elegy for Nature and our lost innocence.  Because there’s only sporadic dialogue (Roeg described the script as “a fourteen-page prose poem”) and the 6-year-old brother and his teenage sister have been brought up in typically post-Empire stiff-upper-lip fashion, nearly all the emotional eloquence in the movie is supplied by the score.  Waltjinju Bandilil’s eerie didgeridoo and Stockhausen’s disorienting tape-piece Hymnen conjure the unknowable majesty of the arid landscape and its scorching extremes of weather. But it’s veteran film composer John Barry who establishes the prevailing mood with his piercingly poignant orchestrations.   A stirring choral theme redolent of a school song, “The Children” evokes the simple-hearted hope and accepting obedience with which kids face the world. The horn fanfares of  “The Journey”  conjure a storybook adventure air, mirroring the way that the youngest child in particular processes their predicament.  Above all, there’s the recurring main theme, a patient pulse of plinky harpsichord over which wistful woodwinds pipe and tender violins soar and swoop, like a kite whose strings are tugging at your heart not your hands.

Here are the other blurbs - in their original director's cut form - that I did for the movies Performance, Solaris, Blade Runner, and McCabe & Mrs. Miller. 

Monday, April 25, 2022

Punk at the pictures

 Here's a fun piece I did for Pitchfork - a guide to punk movies. Framed as the 20 Best, it was originally conceived as "from the worst to the best", which explains the insulting tone of the early entries. Below is a really insulting one - the very first entry in fact - that got cut out to make for a round 20. 

CBGB (2013 – directed Randall Miller)

Considering the awesome historical material at its disposal, CBGB is an inexplicable dud. But let’s try explicating. The late Alan Rickman, great in costume dramas and rom-coms, makes for an awful Hilly Kristal. Where there ought to be a charismatic center to the movie, there’s a bleary slob with hooded eyes and a deadpan mumble. CBGB tries so hard to be gritty, but despite the dogshit, rodents, roaches and dead Bowery bums, unreality riddles the entire production. The punk club’s notoriously squalid toilet, for instance, is depicted as roughly six times larger than the real one (take my word, I’ve taken a leak there).  Even the rat in the kitchen looks groomed and shiny with health. Television’s Tom Verlaine gets electrocuted onstage but having that happen when he’s singing the line “lightning struck itself” from “Marquee Moon” renders it corny and false.  But the film’s largest failure is in the area of motivation and context: it’s never really clear why Kristal started the club, how it became a magnet for malcontents and misfits, or what those bands defined themselves against in the first place. Because the acts are introduced as hallowed legends, The Ramones and Talking Heads and Blondie seem like stars-to-be rather than the striving nobodies, who might easily have got nowhere, that they actually were then.  Things get even worse when The Dead Boys turn up and Kristal decides out of all the groups they’re the ones he wants to manage. If Stiv Bators’s self-strangulation and blowjob theatrics aren’t repulsive enough, we get to see Rupert Grint as guitarist Cheetah Chrome exposing his pubes. CBGB was a monster flop, grossing just $40 thousand, less than one-hundredth of its budget. But at least they spelled the venue’s name right, rather than the common error CGBGs.