John Barry’s James Bond soundtracks are all majestic. Choosing one over the other is a game best played by those who like their martinis shaken, not stirred. (OK, that was lame. Forgive me.) Still, I’ve always had an affinity for his sappier material. He imbues the Bond films, Moonraker in particular, with a lush sort of melancholia that feels more tragic almost in direct proportion to the slowness of the tempo. On Moonraker, Barry pulls out the orchestral stops: The brass expands across the windshield of your brain like a great sustained trumpeting of Nordic warlords. The strings drench themselves in sopping wet streams of diamond-dewed heartache. What’s remarkable is that action film soundtracks today sound nothing like this: They’re often glitchy, given to bad one-man-one-keyb-and-one-small-room heartthumpno that’s just a slicker version of the music you might hear on the six o’clock news. They don’t strive for beauty, for bigness, for sweeping you away. And this isn’t me prescribing one set approach to action film soundtracks. I just find it curious that one of the better such scores around (this one) is on the whole a leisurely, Wagnerian wall of sound that is almost literally haunting. In other words, gorgeous make-out music. How about that?
John Barry’s James Bond soundtracks are all majestic. Choosing one over the other is a game best played by those who like their martinis shaken, not stirred. (OK, that was […]
The record didn’t arrive until late Monday. It was supposed to be delivered on Friday, but UPS was late. So I did not hear it until long after I got […]
The tightest, funniest, and most disturbing Stanley Kubrick film since Dr. Strangelove is (so I hear) the Vietnam movie soldiers love best. In neat halves—the first part takes place in […]
Paul Verhoeven tends to invest formula (be it sci-fi in nature, or modeled on Hitchcockian suspense) with mad, pulp energy, as though he felt like anything short of a cackling, […]
“Just Like Honey” opens Psychocandy, The Jesus and Mary Chain’s debut album. The song epitomizes the band’s signature cocktail of Beach Boys pop and V.U. fuzz. For a while, I […]
In the hands of Gram Parsons, this Rolling Stones lament sounds even sadder than the original version. His take on the song drips with yokel heartache, as though he had […]
This film flirts so closely with miserabilism that, after having seen the first two segments, I was prepared to out and out hate it. But then the movie seemed to […]
I am not convinced Jodorowsky’s Dune would have been a great movie. I am quite convinced it would have been a terrible Dune. Though Frank Herbert’s book is ultimately about the […]
I have no doubt someone has used that title before. I have not. But I have seen Don Hertzfeldt’s The Meaning of Life, twice now in about the span of […]
Sometimes it’s hard to see the point of writing about anything, particularly anything that is good. I contend that critics like “difficult” or “intellectual” cinema less because they actually like […]
Still is a grab bag, an odds ‘n’ sods collection for Joy Division completists that is easy to fault for what it is not: Next to the band’s studio albums, […]
In his first few years of solo stardom, Van the Man would sometimes jam in a way I find honorable: By repeating a simple lick on the guitar or piano (nothing […]
The record didn’t arrive until late Monday. It was supposed to be delivered on Friday, but UPS was late. So I did not hear it until long after I got the news (delivered to me by Jack at 6:30 in the A.M., while I was working out).
So my first listen to Blackstar was inevitably colored by my feelings toward the loss of, for me, the only rock and roll hero who stands the test of time and circumstance. When everything is a pose, finding out your hero is posing is no shock.
What’s shocking, or most arresting here, is the difference between this Bowie album and most Bowie albums (though perhaps not The Next Day). Some people might call some of the stuff here “experimental,” but these songs aren’t experiments – they’re statements. It’s being compared to the Berlin trilogy, which tells me not enough people have listened to 1.Outside, which is the clearest precedent to this album. Albeit, this is comparatively tight and focused, while 1.Outside sprawls, goes everywhere, does everything (not all of it equally well).
But 1.Outside was explicitly experimental (most of the songs were written in improvisation sessions, with Bowie handing out songwriting credits liked he’d never done before – or would do again). Blackstar is firmly in the pocket of where it wants to be – spare, and only containing a nervous energy when it’s looking for it. This is Bowie doing exactly what he wants, echoing himself whenever he feels like it. The album has also been compared to Scott Walker, but these are still essentially rock songs.
Since Hours…, Bowie has (seemingly) been looking for a way to express himself outside of the pose: to figure out how to play the character David Bowie, authentic man. The Next Day did it with a nostalgia that lacked sentimentality. Blackstar eschews even the nostalgia.
I didn’t do one of these last year for various reasons, not the least of which is I didn’t like anything enough in 2014 to really get up the gumption. Well, this year I liked plenty. I might even say a word or two about some of it (probably not).
In no particular order, 20 things I did in 2015 I recommend, with appropriate videos or links:
Hotline Miami 2 soundtrack
Fargo Season 1
Hand of Fate
The tightest, funniest, and most disturbing Stanley Kubrick film since Dr. Strangelove is (so I hear) the Vietnam movie soldiers love best. In neat halves—the first part takes place in a slightly otherworldly version of basic training, the second in a slightly otherworldly version of ‘Nam—Full Metal Jacket constructs and conceives of War as more than simply a dehumanizing experience. Neither overtly comic nor depressingly grim, the movie looks at War as a series of dichotomies: War is messy, and War is hell, but it is also thrilling and beautiful. War starts in basic training, but basic training (the indoctrination process) is War—as a soldier, it only ends when it kills your soul. And War is also the id unleashed, suppressing its femininity at all costs—through swagger, and tough talk, and vernacular—all of it working to harden the heart; but a hard heart kills better than a soft one. And at the climax of each half of the film, Kubrick looks at his protagonist unflinchingly. The torn pacifist Private Joker (Matthew Modine), Kubrick’s idea of a moral center, must confront the Shadow within himself, the blind capacity for death and destruction that he, too, can’t help but enable. He can stand by and watch his friends die, or he can actively participate and waste some gooks. Either way, he’s in a world of shit. Hence the biggest dichotomy of them all: Despite our noblest efforts, and regardless of whether the conflict is a just one, War makes even the best of us destroy ourselves. It turns people who aren’t killers into killers. Kubrick packs all of this into a two-hour narrative without leaning on sentiment or phony metaphor. He keeps the humor intact, and he pulls no punches. Full Metal Jacket is a brilliant achievement.