Showing posts with label 1987. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1987. Show all posts

Friday, January 13, 2017

Radio Days (1987)

USA, 88 minutes
Director/writer: Woody Allen
Photography: Carlo Di Palma
Music: Woody Allen mixtape
Editor: Susan E. Morse
Cast: Woody Allen, Julie Kavner, Michael Tucker, Seth Green, Dianne Wiest, Mia Farrow, Danny Aiello, Josh Mostel, Wallace Shawn, Don Pardo, Kenneth Mars, Tito Puente, Larry David, Jeff Daniels, Kitty Carlisle, Tony Roberts, Diane Keaton

This charming Woody Allen picture may be somewhat overlooked because it's a tricky one to categorize. Or maybe because it doesn't seem that original. Director and writer Allen has basically taken the flashback sequences from Annie Hall 10 years earlier and blown them up into a neat little feature, just under 90 minutes like most of his movies. It's closer to an essay-film than anything, a sentimental memoir of childhood years built around anecdotes and songs connected with that early instrument of mass media, the radio. Allen touches on radio theater dramas such as The Shadow (or his version, "The Masked Avenger"), daytime gossip shows, news featurettes, quiz shows, and more, including, at one point, a hit parade of the songs that played.

The structure is freewheeling, friendly, open—deceptively easygoing, with a very sharp screenplay that moves like a stream from anecdote to tall tale and back again. His family is full of characters, a mother (Julie Kavner) and father (Michael Tucker) who present an interesting contrast to what we would see in another 10 years in the documentary Wild Man Blues. I guess "idealized" covers it. They sure look like nice parents through the prism of this movie. There is also extended family: an Aunt Bea (Dianne Wiest), perennially single, and more aunts and uncles, grandparents, neighbors, teachers, and hangers-on, kooky characters all. Woody Allen's voice is all over it as the narrator, but the screenplay is as tight as anything he's done, he's never in the frame, and it often feels like sitting around talking to him, or listening, as he holds court.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Rock Critic Murders (1987)

This hard-boiled detective novel is a little bit more, and a little bit less, than you might think. Jesse Sublett is a lifelong denizen of Austin, Texas, a bass player, songwriter, and founding member of the Skunks. In the '80s, he established himself as a writer—journalist, essayist, and crime fiction novelist. Here he is working self-consciously in the hard-boiled tradition of Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald. Our intrepid gumshoe hero is a bass player working a day job in a collection agency as a skiptracer—delicious jargon abounds all through. His name is Martin Fender, and if that makes you groan, note that the drummer in the band is named Billy Ludwig. The band is getting back together for a reunion gig, but the star guitar player and heart and soul of the band, KC, is kind of depressed. Then he turns up dead of a suicide. Then so do a couple of local rock critics. It spools on from there: there's a hot chick redhead who is nothing but trouble, a missing kilo of cocaine, a shady real estate deal, sinister Mexicans. It's regionalized to the environs of Austin, and has no new ideas about the hard-boiled dick tale. But Sublett has got the midnight noir deadpan down pretty well, and that carries it. For me it started off a lot better than it ended, which is often the case with hard-boiled detective fiction. What intrigued me, of course, was the rock critic thread, and it is a rich one, unfortunately seen only in glimpses. I wish there'd been more of these guys. The first time two of them show up, just before they are murdered (gone too soon, alas), is a window into a certain point of view. One is grossly fat, patronizing, and full of himself. The other is a nervous runt. Their utter uselessness as human beings is only underlined by their garish exit. Later, outside a nightclub, a few more rock critics are seen, and they could well be as loathsome as the victims, but unfortunately they fall back into the shade too quickly. I wanted more rock critics! It does feel like there is some obscure score settling going on here, as Fender's contempt for them is utter and total. Fender (and Sublett) are coming at it from the musicians' side, so there is a lot of nice detail about studios, band rehearsals, nightclub management, and general touring and performing experience. Sublett has gone on to write more novels in a series featuring Fender— Tough Baby, Boiled in Concrete—plus some true-crime and what looks to be a very interesting personal story in a memoir, Never the Same Again. So I came for the rock critics, but maybe I'll end up staying for something else.

In case it's not at the library.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Poison (1987)

It's possible that Ed McBain might have been trying a little harder in 1987, when he published not one but two novels in the 87th Precinct series of police procedurals, neither of them shorties. In fact, I think the second that year, Tricks, is one of his best. Poison, the first that year, is worth a look too if you are so inclined. It's focused on a case of serial murder in which all the victims have been involved with one woman, Marilyn Hollis, who immediately following her introduction becomes involved with one of the detectives on the case, Hal Willis. The other detective is Steve Carella, and there are few appearances by any of the others. It's mostly about the case. Well, honestly, I think it's mostly about setting up a major love interest for Willis, who I've rarely seen foregrounded so prominently. I think I recall running into Hollis again in later novels so she stuck at least a little while. She's certainly bigger than life here, a former prostitute with a big sexual appetite and an exotic and mysterious past. The mode of most of the murders is nicotine poisoning, which affords some interesting trivia (as well as the title of the book), but one of the murders is by knife (oh, that again) and an attempt is made on Willis with a gun. It's fair as mysteries go—the who-did that did the whodunit is in play early, things point to that person, but the narrative distracts so it's all done well that way. I'm starting to think my favorite character in this series could well be the city itself, Isola. The more the stories feel grooved into it the better I like them. Here, it's a mystery story and love story that did not have to be the 87th Precinct. But that's OK, because this reminds me, among all else, that McBain is also a very good mystery writer. So I enjoyed it on that level. For the 87th in '87, the place you want to go first is Tricks. But Poison is a pretty good fix too.

In case it's not at the library.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Robert Cray Band, "Smoking Gun" (1987)

March 21, 1987, #22
(listen)

I am a fan of Robert Cray and his one and only hit is no exception, not least in that it comes from probably my favorite album by him, Strong Persuader. I like to think of that album, and Cray more generally, as one analog to the Beatles' work of the mid-'60s in terms of the broad and varied approach taken to love and relationship song to song, which I informally dubbed the puppy love song project. Call Robert Cray, especially on Strong Persuader, the all grown up love song project. As with the Beatles, the scope is appreciated only across the songs, as each one is more or less a unique point unto itself. For example, in "Right Next Door (Because of Me)," the singer is the outside disrupting agent in a married couple, who live in the next apartment, from which he can hear them fighting. The singer has been sleeping with the woman. He hears the man accusing her of being unfaithful. He listens to the fight and fills in the circumstances for us with a blend of regret and satisfaction. He takes no action. In the #22 hit "Smoking Gun," by contrast, the singer is the cuckold realizing he is in an adulterous marriage. In the classic spectrum of grief, denial is giving way to anger, though by and large it is still just simmering anxiety. But the singer seems to know if he presses the issue now he's liable to catch her with "that well-known smoking gun." I like the way the lyric traffics in one of the most difficult aspects of these situations—the images one conjures (or, God help us, sees). The singer is not yet the abject figure of "I Guess I Showed Her," a bruised cuckold now living in a motel (to make another comparison from the Strong Persuader album). But he's surely on his way, though the guitar playing suggests the person in this song may have the greater portion of rage about him.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Tricks (1987)

Perils of following large series over a span of decades: sometimes you acquire the same book more than once. I read this novel from the 87th Precinct series by Ed McBain (Evan Hunter, which was not his real name either) back when it was still pretty new, but had forgotten everything except the harrowing decoy stakeout in pursuit of a serial slasher / rapist. At this point McBain is so good he makes it look easy. Set on a warm Halloween that brings frigid temperatures with evening, it's premised on goofs around the word "tricks." Trick or treat—it's Halloween. The serial killer targets prostitutes, posing as a john. A stage magician suddenly vanishes and hours later pieces of his dismembered body begin turning up. A crew of midgets in costume is holding up liquor stores, and killing clerks and bystanders. And Parker looks up a 60-year-old good-time girl named Peaches and ultimately turns a few tricks of his own. Et cetera. The centerpiece in Tricks is the stakeout and ultimate confrontation between Eileen Burke and the killer. Burke previously (no doubt in one of the books in the series) was attacked and raped on a similar operation, so here she is haunted by that. The character of the serial killer is an interesting one, reminiscent of Jim Thompson figures in the way he charms with an endless barrage of streaming jokes, which are often actually funny. It's an interesting device—a good trick, if you will—at once chilling and utterly engaging. Tricks is a real page-turner, as they say. In fact, it's one of McBain's best. At the same time, I will take the opportunity to say here, the details of violence (notably what has to be classified as his fetishizing of knives) and a too-frequent resort to rape as a plot device work to undermine interest. They are the stock devices of genre fiction, hardly exclusive to police procedurals. The fascination, such as it is, is a play on deepest fears. When people talk about exploitation drama, it's the exploitation of our basest fears I think they are talking about. McBain's regular resort to them has to be counted as a weakness. On the other hand, we are always looking for fascination too, so there's that.

In case it's not at the library.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Sign ☮' the Times (1987)

Out of curiosity, I wonder what the consensus presently is on best Prince album? I know a lot of people were very high on Sign for some time, but I have a feeling most of the affection has settled on Purple Rain (or, in some circles, Dirty Mind). I have always admired and respected Sign but never exactly loved it. Let me try to explain. It often feels a little like work to take it on, and not only for its generous double-LP 80-minute dimensions. There are other reasons. For example, the worst song here is the first one encountered, and the title song no less. A fetching aural landscape (as also was "When Doves Cry," remember) but more of a novelty and/or inert art object, and ultimately tiresome I think. No need to go into the belabored attempt to be topical, I hope. I don't doubt Prince wanted peace on this earth in 1987, still does, and always has, but he's a little fatuous about it, don't you think? There's a downside to spending your life locked into a studio. Then there are what I think of as The Lessons in Funk—"Housequake," or "Hot Thing." This is great stuff, but is it my imagination or is there something a little clinical here? I guess there's a downside to putting on a clinic too. He studied his James Brown, George Clinton, Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix, and Little Richard well. Prince Rogers Nelson is the Tiger Woods of funk and soul and rock 'n' roll and always has been. He knew where to fix his gaze and absorb, and he's loaded with talent. And it is indeed brilliant music to be found here, absolutely ... stop to listen close ... sure enough, hands in the air like I just don't care. So why don't I get to it more often? Partly I think there are actually a good many lesser lights besides the title song. I don't like "Starfish and Coffee" or "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker," and "The Cross" is the kind of business I don't want to be involved in (wonderful grinding bottom or no). In other cases the songs themselves are patchy: "Play in the Sunshine" and "It" have very nice moments but can be lackluster about getting there. "Slow Love" is a good one, the kind of torchy sex song he does on a regular basis and often pulls off (which also means it isn't necessarily indispensable). "If I Was Your Girlfriend" is weird in a good way and charming. "U Got the Look" works pretty well too, and "It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night" is about as big as the 9:02 allows. My favorite on the recent visits was "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" and its soaring hook, which sounds to me like it could have played on Purple Rain, although maybe (or maybe not) I could do without the proggy break (thus making it another patchy song, though at 6:29 it has the room to breathe too). I have to admit, I tend to favor the next album over this, Lovesexy, which I thought better achieved the seamless suite of everything he is going for (see also, names above), sans huffed-up topicality, which feels more like making it mighty real to me. But I expect Sign O' the Times (with or without embedded peace symbol) is pretty far up the Rolling Stone Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ladder, yes?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Replacements, "Alex Chilton" (1987)


(listen)

A lot of time gone by since I'd had occasion to give this one-time staple of the late '80s another listen, and something about it didn't sound exactly right. I thought at first it was the tempo, seemed rushed, but according to Scott Miller in his indispensable Music: What Happened?, "the CD mastering ... sounds like someone lost the thread of a grand compression plan." He swears by the vinyl version. Sure enough, the original music video I turned up sounds more like it. It's a gushing fan letter before it is anything else, by design, and interestingly not only Paul Westerberg but also Tommy Stinson and Chris Mars get songwriting credit. It is thus so much a group effort it is practically heartwarming. If they can't help themselves with the title, they play it more coy in the song itself. Westerberg blurs the name-checking so it doesn't exactly jump out, but there's no mistaking the sentiment in the chorus: "I'm in love with that song." It's perfect. It's exactly the point—the love, not the song. Which song? Any song—this song even. That's up to you, and a good part of what makes this work. It also sounds more like a Replacements than an Alex Chilton song, another nice point. When I manage to stop thinking and parsing so much, however, and let it play as something that wells up and pricks insistently at one's ears, then it really starts to become apparent what they have managed here. It's a song about being in love with music, admirably overcoming any tendency toward striking the pose of disaffection, and simply giving in to the pleasures of a good song.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987)

USA, 43 minutes
Director: Todd Haynes
Writers: Cynthia Schneider, Todd Haynes
Photography: Barry Ellsworth
Music: The Carpenters
Cast/voices: Merrill Gruver, Michael Edwards, Melissa Brown, Rob LaBelle, Nannie Doyle, Cynthia Schneider, Larry Kole, Gwen Kraus

Todd Haynes's Superstar has won a fair amount of attention in certain circles, "the Barbie doll movie about Karen Carpenter," but along the way perhaps building such an outsized reputation (because so difficult to see) that it may seem disappointing to those encountering it for the first time. It's important to understand, for purposes of setting expectations, that Superstar is low-budget, crude, unruly, often awkwardly self-conscious filmmaking with production values just north of home movies. The voiced dialogue only occasionally and intermittently reaches the level of actual performance and the whole thing is wont to slip gears with little notice between straightforward biopic, social issue documentary, and pure fan love letter, among other things. More than anything it is a display of youthful exuberance.

It is only one of many ironies that its single greatest strength, the way it fills the soundtrack with Carpenters songs, is also one of two significant reasons it will probably never see a proper public release—at least, until that material finally slips into the public domain, well beyond any of our lifetimes. The movie gains unexpected energy from many directions. Its famous use of Barbie dolls, the thoughtful way it approaches Karen Carpenter, anorexia, and food generally, and its confident sense of the popular culture zeitgeist and how the Carpenters do and do not fit. But it is the greatest pleasure to watch always when there is a Carpenters song playing.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Mojo Nixon, "Elvis Is Everywhere" (1987)

(listen)

A lot of things about what is likely Mojo Nixon's best known song have dated badly, not least the main thrust, the tired old literal deification of Elvis Presley, with its unpleasant echoes of the hobbyhorse mythmaking of the '80s. It's a novelty song, and sounding infinitely smaller a year or two past their era is a problem that novelty songs have. I knew someone who shared a place with Mojo Nixon for awhile and he said what you see (hear) is what you get, an entirely unfiltered guy who sat on the couch and played a guitar and held court, day and night, 24/7. Any time my pal came home, he'd find it again. Mojo Nixon. Carrying on. I've only seen him once, but yeah, it was pretty much this, raving around a lot of different songs, including this one, of course. I have always connected with the whole shtick somehow, it just makes me laugh. He's got a kind of Don Rickles/ Rodney Dangerfield type of energy that I love, the comic who throws everything he's got into it until you can feel the figurative veins throbbing in the brow. And in this way he gets laughs. Example: After he blows it (nowadays—it used to be one of the reliable laugh lines) with an unfortunate Michael J. Fox dig, this is where he goes: "And Elvis is in Joan Rivers but he's trying to get out, man. He's trying to get out! Listen up Joanie baby"—and into the chorus. I know it's risky to make this kind of assertion, but—that's funny! It's really funny! In the 25 years since this song came out Joan Rivers herself has made it better and better.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pet Shop Boys, "Rent" (1987)

(listen)

"West End Girls" was and is a novelty—an interesting one, perhaps, but in the end a lot of shtick. It has always been everything that came after it that interested me about these purveyors of pop music's everlasting now, starting with all the other hits, e.g., "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)," "It's a Sin," "What Have I Done to Deserve This?," "Always on My Mind," and "Domino Dancing." Among this handful are four top 10 U.S. hits, one both a Willie Nelson and an Elvis Presley cover, and one a duet with Dusty Springfield. The Pet Shop Boys are not one-hit wonders. And those songs aren't even their best (well, there's an argument that "It's a Sin" is their best) (well, also "What Have I Done to Deserve This?"). "Rent" is one of the earliest I knew, after I got a laugh when I spied the two of them in tuxedos and Neil Tennant yawning on the cover of Actually and bought the album. I thought "Rent" was hilarious, of course, as intended. But the long-term staying power is from a certain quality of oh let's call it neorealism, which lofts it well beyond the realm of a one-joke song. Yes, yes, there's this over and over in the chorus: "I love you, oh, you pay my rent." I take that as the joke, as opposed to the verses, where the details are laid out with economy and precision: "You dress me up, I'm your puppet / You buy me things, I love it / You bring me food, I need it / You give me love, I feed it." It's pretty too. There's a version by Liza Minnelli from her 1989 album Results, produced by the Pet Shop Boys, but it's played in a whole other register. It's funny too, but a bit wintry about it, as befits a star of her magnitude (listen).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

37. Pogues, "Fairytale of New York" (1987)

(listen)

Apparently I have been living in a cave because until just now via Wikipedia I had not realized the efforts people have made to turn this into a holiday classic—as admirable as they are ludicrous as they are perfect. Ludicrous because the song is so determinedly squalid, so dank and fetid, a drunk man in jail on Christmas Eve who pines uselessly for better days; perfect because with all that it works so well. My hat is off to those who hear this so clearly now. It gives me cause for hope after all. The album it comes from, If I Should Fall From Grace With God, is an utter revelation itself, but this was the point where it tipped over for me into something so strange and bewildering and good I don't have adequate words for it. I have been known to play it again and again. Shane MacGowan's gruff, whiskey-soaked, forever off-pitch growl matched with Kirsty MacColl's forever upbeat pop fashionista femme warble, the lush grand piano that launches it, the strings that carry it home, all the Irish strains, the nostalgia and regret and other symptoms of despair, the presence of law enforcement, and overall the sense of a nagging sadness, omnipresent, only temporarily, fleetingly redeemed, are overwhelming when heard under the right circumstances, e.g., alone, whether by oneself literally or in a madding crowd or at the family hearth. Maybe it's the Christmas theme that makes it hit so hard. Maybe I'm vulnerable to any flavor of pop music syrup that comes along. But the tension here is visceral, operating at multiple levels: a strange duet, foul-mouthed and sweet, with intimations of both jail and joy, bittersweet, wise, and knowing.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

46. Rosanne Cash, "The Real Me" (1987)

(listen)

The album this comes from, King's Record Shop, may have been as close as Rosanne Cash ever got to a hit-making factory—the cover of the old man's "Tennessee Flat-Top Box" was only one of four to go #1 on the country charts. But "The Real Me" was not exactly any part of that. Instead, it stands out starkly from everything around it, and in retrospect it's easy to see how much it looks ahead to the next phase of her career, in the albums Interiors and The Wheel, a period of introspective, even raw exercises that accompanied a divorce and other life-changing events. She was coming to terms with ghosts that had haunted her all her life, as daughter of Johnny and wife of Rodney Crowell and mother of three (going on four). As a true-blue fan who enjoyed all of her '80s releases, I think Interiors is her best album running away. And I was thrilled and mesmerized from the very first I heard this, the soft, almost inaudible strokes of its beginnings, the way it verges on pure unaccompanied vocal performance, swelling bigger and bigger, and the simple power of its sentiment, which strikes home deep. The moment of liberation arrived, identity crisis resolved: "This is the real me, breakin' down at last / Hey, it's the real me, crawlin' out of my past." The verses make it plain this is artifact of the shell of her marriage cracking, but there's so much more to it than that. It's an arrival at a truth as vital as it is personal, a dramatic reckoning point, and a tremendous source of strength and solace for performer and audience alike. It's exciting in only the way that such a moment of personal revelation can be; it depends on that more than anything. And, simply put, it just feels good to recognize the impulse so plainly stated in another.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Miami (1987)

With this, Joan Didion sets herself to addressing the fever swamp that is southern Florida, taking her snapshots and making her portrait in the mid-'80s, at about the time when Michael Mann was putting a glossy sheen on it with his hit TV series, "Miami Vice," and Brian De Palma was making a lurid cartoon you couldn't look away from of the underworld gangster life fueled by cocaine. Didion is not particularly beguiled by their preoccupations, however—though certainly she takes a good look at the effects of the drug trade—preferring instead to examine the larger Cuban cultural and political forces that have effectively controlled the city for decades, tracing its origins back to even before the Cuban revolution of the late '50s. She makes a workmanlike case for its centrality not only in local Florida politics but nationally as well, as one thing has led seemingly inexorably to the next: the run-up to the revolution in the '50s, the inept Bay of Pigs response in the early '60s, various mysteries emerging from the aftermath of the JFK assassination, the Watergate burglary, the Mariel boatlift of 1980 and the huge impact that it had, Reagan's attempts to use this political football to his advantage, and more. It's all delivered with Didion's usual terse, complex language and air of paranoid brooding and with her typical fastidiousness in nailing down factual details. It's not a topic that interests me a great deal, so for me it was a bit of a grind—I am starting to notice that Didion's thickets of language are most effective for me when they address a topic I am willing to immerse myself in as deeply as she always immerses herself. So take that as a caveat. Even so, her ability to profile the political tensions and various lacunae and blind spots of the players in Miami is so precise as to be indelible, and unquestionably persuasive, contrasting the styles of the Southern whites who felt the place was theirs at the time (and likely do still) with the Cubans who have effectively turned it into a kind of offshore base of operations from which to attack Cuba. Those, like me, wondering why more than half a century of Castro has still not produced anything like normalized relations between the United States and Cuba will find any number of clues here.

In case it's not at the library. (Everyman's)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Songs About Fucking (1987)

Steve Albini, his weenie drum machine, and his big bad earth-shredding team of guitars, which typically sound recorded through some narrow aperture, as if overheard, set themselves to making one of the strangest and most obnoxiously fascinating and compulsively listenable rock 'n' roll albums ever. I'm not sure there's anything else like this, aside from other Big Black albums and Albini projects, and even none of them ever quite gets it all together the way this one does. Operating as a kind of zombie new wave album, complete with eccentric choice of cover songs—Kraftwerk's "The Model" (with Cheap Trick's "He's a Whore" for the CD version)—it lurches and skitters across entire tonal ranges of a certain register of mood: white-hot attack on "L Dopa," laconic shock tale on "Bad Penny," incoherent petulance on "Fish Fry," hysterical shrieking dynamics on "Ergot," and don't miss the methodically turgid exercise of the long song, "Kitty Empire," which finally achieves its glory only toward the end of its interminable four minutes. Yeah, that's you I see banging your head in time to it. Occasional tracks, or moments of them anyway, appear to fall into a rut of thrashing merely for the sake of thrashing, unable to quite transcend, yet even so luxuriating in the physical sensations, and always finding their ways to and blatantly flashing those strange noises Albini & crew manage to wring from guitars. Only the one of the album's 14 songs is longer than two and a half minutes, one is 36 seconds, and the whole thing comes in at just over half an hour. You never have to wait long for the next gesture, and it's a real roller-coaster ride of a half an hour. The title and the cover art are there for the decoration value—which is to say, strictly to nonplus. But I bet he got you.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

"What Have I Done to Deserve This?" (1987)

70. Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield, "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" (Dec. 26, 1987, #2)

I'm not sure this qualifies as Dusty Springfield's greatest moment, or the Pet Shop Boys' either, for that matter, on or off the charts. But it happened to be the place I turned first when I learned of Springfield's death, and it was remarkably right in the moment. The way she enters into this song, after an intro, verse, and chorus, all of 1:35 in, makes the appearance nothing less than sharply dramatic and, of course, almost perfectly thrilling. Once I had really cottoned to that I couldn't hear it enough, and so, interestingly, the song now has vastly more associations for me with 1999 than 1987. That, of course, is neither here nor there in the scheme of things, but interesting to me in the way it points up how the best artists make work that is resolutely outside of time—has, in fact, no time, existing rather in all time, and for all time. Heralded forth by various synthesized horns it tells a familiar story of love suddenly and bewilderingly lost, overlaid by Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant's carefully ironic gigolo twist on it and various layers of tongue-in-cheek reality checks ("I bought you drinks, I brought you flowers, I read you books and talked for hours," etc.). It's left to Dusty, in this careful if lovely morass of pose and gesture, to bring home the pain of the situation. "Since you went away I've been hanging around," she sings to devastating effect. "I've been wondering why I'm feeling down." In that moment, there is not a single question in anyone's mind as to why she or anyone hearing this song is feeling down. It's all there in the carefully constructed context and, even more, in the grain of her voice.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Come On Pilgrim (1987)

Damn fine debut EP from a band, the Pixies, that single-handedly refined and redirected "alternative" rock, doing everything but ridding of it the stupid label. Here's what we know: Black Francis (aka Frank Black, Charles Thompson IV) teams with Mrs. John Murphy (aka Kim Deal) to form a 2 guitars-bass-drums outfit. Most of their songs are short and feature a lot of caterwauling from the two principles, some of it in Spanish. The verses are often quiet, the choruses loud. When I say loud, I mean LOUD. As in deafening. The tunes are pretty good. The lyrics don't make much sense. The band is what's known as tight. Stand by for the next chapter in rock 'n' roll history.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Actually (1987)

"Rent" Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant hold legitimate claim to status as international stars, but that does not often make much impression on my American countrymen, who by and large consider them a one-hit wonder. That hit being "West End Girls," which scored in 1986. Never mind that my Billboard book lists five more American hits, four of them top 10. But let's get down to business. In spite of its many fine points, in the end "West End Girls" is little more than intriguing, production-heavy novelty. The enduring strength of this pair has turned out to be wry, poignant, witty, memorable pop songs. Here, "Rent" is hilarious -- "And look at the two of us in sympathy With everything we see I never want anything, it's easy You buy whatever I need... I love you, oh, you pay my rent" -- but they play it so sweetly straight that the pathos can tear your heart out in spite of yourself. "It's a Sin" sets forward one of their most successful formulas, a superficially banal sentiment that nonetheless burrows and burrows and finally manages to find its way to the profoundest depths via melody, production, and an elusive knowingness. The duet with Dusty Springfield, "What Have I Done to Deserve This?," was the first place I turned when I learned of her death in 1999, and it was the right place to go.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Pleased to Meet Me (1987)

"Alex Chilton" Dead horse metaphor alert: So where were the spiders while the fly tried to break our balls Just the beer light to guide us, So we bitched about his fans and should we crush his sweet hands? All of a sudden the referents aren't so clear now are they? Sooner or later, from Hootenanny to All Shook Down, you have to make the call. Where does it all go wrong for the Replacements? This has to be a candidate, but come on. Bob Stinson or not, Westerberg's songs carry it -- no matter how coldly you might want to reduce the band to journeyman/faceless status. Hey, Chris Mars is at the top of his game. Winning lyric: "Jesus rides beside me He never buys any smokes."

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