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Elvis Presley – I John

ijohnelvis“I John” is Elvis gospel at its most propulsive.  The feel is sweaty, churchy—body music animated with the spirit of the Lord.  “Baby, Let’s Play House” may be the Hillbilly Cat’s most lasciviously fun moment.  “I John” is surely the holiest—if by “holy” we mean gospel that omits the softly prayerful, hymnal touch.  I like that.  I like how the King reaches into the upper and lower registers of His voice, almost side by side.  I like the reverb, which sounds far less clunky and canned than it does on any of His other gospel recordings.  I like that He sings excitedly, perhaps even desperately, of a man cornered by angels.  I like that “I John” rocks.


LCD Soundsystem – All I Want

lcdwantYou come home to someone who had waited.  You guys aren’t close now.  You’re strangers.

You go outside for a walk.  It’s good to be home, but you can’t shake the discomfort.  The two of you will have to start over — and you know you’re not up to the challenge.  All you want is the other person’s pity.  The bitter tears.

So you put your buds on and you play Bowie’s “Heroes”; and you would like to be like the duo in that song, who are dying to get over — to feel good, to rise above — to do something, be something.  To escape.  Forever.  But that’s just a dream.  You can’t afford it.  After all, “Heroes” is just a song.  Bowie himself kicks and screams at it, enraged at the fantasy that means so much.

Bowie is trapped and so are you.  But you’re worse, friend.  You don’t even ask for that which you can’t have.  You cling to the shell of what once was.  And you admit it.  You want the emptiness.  It’s easy to want it.

At least it would be a feeling.


The Kinks – The Way Love Used To Be

kinksgreatlostThe Kinks katalog is full of sidebars that other bands would kill to have written.  Commissioned for a film about a penis transplant, “The Way Love Used to Be” is one such sidebar.  It feels most un-Kinks-like.  Strings dominate the track; you don’t hear the band, and the song is not rooted in any pop tradition.  It’s not consciously Anglophilic, either.  But for the haunting melody and the unaffected vocal, the song could be maudlin.  It doesn’t take the piss.   

“The Way Love Used to Be” is two minutes of Ray Davies at his most lovelorn.  You should stream it now.


The Movie Brats: William Friedkin

By all accounts, Billy Friedkin behaved terribly in the 70s.  At the turn of the decade he was hot sh*t, a street kid who had paid his dues in TV—and now was ready to put his stamp on the hard R.  Blend his chutzpah, his training, and his love of the French New Wave aesthetic of guerrilla filmmaking in a Cuisinart, and what do you get?  At his best, three amazing movies: The French Connection, The Exorcist, and Sorcerer.

Upping the ante on anti-heroics and taking a docu-realistic approach to pure cinema, The French Connection and The Exorcist look straight at what was then referred to by some as the New Urban Gothic.  These movies say something about moral and spiritual decay, but they never feel forced in that regard.  They’re just really entertaining.

frenchconnectionFriedkin’s ascension to Hollywood Valhalla is due to the Oscar-winning French Connection.  It’s tempting to over-credit him with everything that makes the film tick, but what the hell:  The director gets his due.  Watch it again.  Marvel at the pacing, the humor.  The forward momentum that barely has time to ponder itself but raises the stakes, anyway.  Feast on Gene Hackman’s pitch-perfect performance as Popeye Doyle, cinema’s best good/bad cop.

Considered shocking upon release, The Exorcist has only grown in stature.  It feels less like an in-your-face gore-fest and more like a slow burn, a film that for all its violence is really a sorrowful tale about a priest who must stand face to face with the devil.  And Friedkin makes you believe the devil exists.

Then there is Sorcerer, a remake of Henri Clouzot’s Wages of Fear that has to be one of the most intense action-suspense films.  By turns primal and surreal, Sorcerer saw huge cost overruns, and Friedkin and Bud Smith took forever to edit the footage.  The title posed a marketing challenge to Universal Studios, and when the picture opened against Star Wars—well.  Sorcerer sorcerertanked.  That was unfortunate.  It’s actually the man’s masterwork.  And now that the cult campaign behind its resuscitation has allowed it to reach critical mass, the movie breathes on Blu-ray.

But Sorcerer premiered in 1977.  In the past 37 years, what hath Friedkin wrought?  Well, like several enfant terribles of 70s cinema, his hubris redounded on itself.  Cruising was atmospheric but odd.  To Live and Die in L.A. was scuzzy and slick and intermittently brilliant.  Rampage was OK but…  He had a hard time regaining his touch. 

Friedkin is the sort of guy who seems to do his best work when his back is against the wall and he has something to prove—and, just maybe, he’s not afraid to be an ass to get his way.  Attributing the excellence of a career director’s output to the degree to which he acts like a prick is silly; but there is something to be said for the quick and able-bodied F*ck You of the young, gifted and hungry.  (Of course, it helped to be that way in the 70s, a time when the major studios gave a ton of creative control to a movie-mad bunch of upstarts like Friedkin.)  You can see some of his old power in Killer Joe (2011), a low-budget sickie that shows the bear has some juice yet.


John Cale – Slow Dazzle

slowdazzleIn which the dada noodle of Wales re-teams with Messengers Manzanera and Eno (2/5ths of Roxy Music) for what is essentially Fear 2.

Weathered by coke and booze, Cale’s brogue highlights the humor in tunes that poke loving fun at rock & roll of both the schlock and shock varieties, replete with backing singers and garish echo.

The scary Elvis cover is where it all comes together.

As the second release from Cale’s residency at Island Records, Slow Dazzle maintains its predecessor’s dark sense of fun but packs less of a punch.  (Helen of Troy, the third Island LP, is the weak link.  It sounds more gothic and the songwriting less assured.)  Combined, these records are the former Velvet’s take on the Brits’ assimilation of all that the Velvet Underground did, with a few fond odes / tips of the hat to Brian Wilson thrown in for good measure.  Attitudinally, Cale caps it off with a grin and a gob of spit.

Rating: A