Archives for November 2011

Lou Reed & Metallica – “Lulu”

It’s hard to approach the now mythically infamous collaboration between Lou Reed and Metallica without being aware of the furore that Lulu provoked from the moment the project was announced.

All those worst fears seemed to have been realised when the interviews given by the pair that then surfaced caused toes to curl from Berlin to New York. And all the reviews of the album that followed were unanimous. That this was quite possibly the worst album, ever, was epitomised by the boys from Pravda who gave it a derisory 1.0

But. It’s actually, not, that, bad. If anything, it’s hard to imagine what anyone might have hoped for from such a pairing.

The musical realm that Metallica hail from is characterised by two facets; noise, and an endearing contradiction. On the one hand, the worlds of metal engulf you in a maelstrom of thunder that promises impossible, macho violence. But the bands that produce it are peopled by topless boys whose long conditioned, cascading curls mask delicate hands that vigorously caress and finger the necks of guitars grasped at the crotch. It’s like combining chilli with chocolate.

The one thing you must never do is listen to the lyrics. But unfortunately, when a band gets to be as big as Metallica, they insist on being taken seriously. And there’s only a very special, specific type of person that could ever take a band like Metallica seriously; Beavis.

Happily, there’s far more Lou here than there is Metallica. Pointedly, the one track that all of the critics allowed the album was its last, Junior Dad. But that’s because it’s basically a Lou Reed song. You’d be hard pressed to indentify anything here that would have sounded out of place on a solo album of his (though the track’s second 10 minutes(!) would probably have felt more at home on a Brian Eno album than a Lou Reed one.).

Nevertheless, despite what its endless detractors would have you believe, one or two of the more collaborative tracks are actually kind of okay. The sound that Reed and his slightly more grungy than normal house band make is quietly compelling and occasionally hypnotic. At the very worst, all it’ll do is send you back to 1975’s Metal Machine Music and the just as unfairly overlooked Ecstasy from 2000.

And so what if some of the lyrics grate? Wilfully obscure, even apparently risible Lou Reed is still the closest to greatness that Metallica will ever find themselves. No wonder they were grinning so inanely in all of those interviews.

“We Need To Talk About Kevin” – Lynne Ramsay

Beyond the fact that the three greatest film makers in the world are David Lynch, David Lynch and David Lynch, the five or six serious film makers working in the medium today are Anh Hung Tran, Atom Egoyan, Julio Medem, Todd Solondz and Lynne Ramsay (but then what about Marco Bellocchio, or Scorsese…).

So the lukewarm response that the latest film from the latter evoked in Britain was surprising. Because We Need To Talk About Kevin is immaculate.

Ramsay made her debut in 1999 with Ratcatcher, an unusually lyrical and slightly detached look at growing up on a council estate. She followed that in 2002 with Morvern Callar, which was even more doggedly elliptical, and concentrated on evoking a mood and conjuring up an atmosphere rather than rigidly pursuing a narrative drive.

So few people familiar with her work can have been surprised at the way in which she approached adapting Lionel Shriver’s acclaimed novel, We Need To Talk About Kevin. The slightly bigger budget and the presence of the relatively well-known Tilda Swinton and John C Reilly as the put-upon parents mean that it’s slightly more conventional than her two previous films. But it also provided her with the scaffolding on which to build an even more impressive construct that melds visual grandeur with sonic panache.

It’s hard to know what the critics in London had been expecting. Matthew Sweet managed to complain on the BBC’s Late Review that it added nothing to the horror genre. Well no. That’s because it’s not a horror film. While we’re on the subject, it’s pretty disappointing as bedroom farce as well.

Other critics complained about the heavy-handed symbolism. But it’s not symbolism that the film employs. Rather, there are a series of visual and sonic motifs that ripple and reverberate throughout the piece as a whole, and that reflect and connect the characters to their surroundings, sending currents and waves across the surface.

It’s not an enjoyable film, obviously, nor should it be. It acts instead as a companion piece to Gus Van Sant’s brilliant Elephant from 2003, which justly won that year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes. That explored the conventionally held view that the sort of kids who inexplicably open fire on their hapless classmates are completely normal. Kevin offers up the corollary to that. What if some kids are just bad (though the book it should be noted is more ambivalent of the question of blame.)?

Austere yet expansive, Seamus McGarvey’s pristine cinematography and Jonny Greenwood’s insidious score combine to produce a work of rare cinematic quality. And, like The Lives Of Others, it eventually offers relief from its unremitting oppression. As with its very last line and gesture, the faintest glimmer of hope is finally allowed to break through.

“Top Boy” – Channel 4

Series 1 of Top Boy.

Series 1 of Top Boy.

Comparing the latest television drama to The Wire has become as predictable as it is tedious. But with Channel 4’s Top Boy, such comparisons were inevitable. For once, they were entirely warranted.

The main difference between them is that the latter is set in a fictional suburb of east London, and is only four episodes long, having been broadcast over four consecutive nights in November. But that aside, it’s a remarkably successful and convincing attempt at covering pretty much the same ground mined in HBO’s justly lauded Baltimore epic.

On the one hand, both deal with the lives of disenfranchised, inner city black kids whose sole avenue for expression and escape are the drugs that inescapably come to define them.

On the other, despite focusing on the three areas that television is traditionally least capable of convincingly dealing with, namely youth culture, blacks and drugs, they both succeed in brilliantly creating an all too believable parallel universe that seems to exist both right next door to us, and on another planet to the one where most television takes place.

Once upon a time, this was precisely the sort of thing that Channel 4 believed it had been created for. Home produced drama that shines a light on the vast areas of society conventionally ignored to give voice to the unseen and never heard.

Channel_4_ident_1982This iconoclasm was an attitude they proudly applied not merely to drama, but to the arts in general, and indeed sport. But that alas was before the arrival of Big Brother. Ever since which, they’ve lazily morphed into little more than ITV’s younger smutty, brash sibling.

So the news that they’d produced Britain’s answer to The Wire was met with justifiable skepticism. Happily, it was misplaced. Just as it had with The Wire, the success of Top Boy rests on a combination of factors.

First and foremost, there’s the writing. Both rely on extensively researched scripts that stubbornly refuse to judge their characters, focusing instead on the multiple layers of drama that result from the conflicting loyalties that underground lives produce. Secondly, they both make use of unconventional casting, turning to first time actors untutored in the niceties of traditional drama.

Inevitably, given that it all takes place over just the four episodes, there’s an ever so slightly rushed feel to Top Boy, and some of those loose ends could have usefully been left dangling. On the other hand, Ronan Bennett’s brilliant scripts were buttressed by Brian Eno’s evocative score, and by some meticulous directing by the French Algerian Jann Demange, who eschewed an over reliance on hand-held gritty realism in favour of a more measured, thoughtful visual palette.

It’s too early to say whether Top Boy represents a renaissance or an aberration in the Channel 4 story. Either way though, the bar for British drama has been significantly raised.

Laura Sheeran, Katie Kim and Donal Dineen at “Dublin Contemporary”.

The first serious attempt at curating an international, contemporary art exhibition was held in Dublin during the months of September and October under the banner Dublin Contemporary. The most spectacular aspect of which was its commandeering of an entire wing of the NCH in Earlsfort Terrace. Scores of unloved rooms on three floors in the otherwise august edifice were used as self-contained exhibition spaces and for pop-up events, one of which, memorably, brought the exhibition to a close at Halloween.

Who Are You? Vol 2 was curated by DJ and film maker Donal Dineen, and attending it appropriately enough felt a bit like stepping back in time and into one of the less salubrious if more productive corners of Andy Warhol’s Factory, circa 1967. Musicians, artists, film makers and general hipsters gathered in an air of conviviality and studied nonchalance to casually if carefully manufacture magic. It could so very easily have been hopelessly cringe-inducing. Unusually, it was quietly spectacular.

For a couple of hours three solo musicians serenaded us one after the other, as painter Guillermo Carrion and visual artist Hector Castells ably assisted by Dineen projected a collage of gently evolving images made up of a combination of stills, video and an oil painting that was being worked on live at the back of the room. First up of the musicians was Laura Sheeran.

Sheeran produces a live show that demands to be seen. Veering dangerously close at times to parody, she injects an intensity into her live shows that gives them a genuinely hypnotic air. 500 years ago she’d have been burnt at the stake by now. And it would be easy to mistake what you see as gimmicky. But as soon as you hear the sounds she produces, it’s impossible not to be drawn in. You can’t fake that kind of passion.

Although she hasn’t yet quite managed to capture that eerie energy on disc, the album she released earlier this year, Lust of Pig and the Fresh Blood at is, nonetheless, a wonderfully atmospheric work that bores its way in to the back of your brain, where it nestles quietly nudging you.

Katie Kim, who was next up, has had no difficulty in translating the magic of her live performances onto disc. Mazzy Star meets Coco Rosie though never fey, she manages to project both confidence and vulnerability. Technically accomplished and emotionally engaging live, she’s already succeeded in reproducing that sound on her previous album, Twelve at and the forth coming Cover&Flood is one of the most keenly awaited albums of the autumn. Kim is the real deal. Nb.

Finally, Sean Mac Erlaine, Sean Óg as he’s been performing under for much of the last decade (, brought the evening to a suitably quiet if intense close, with some unashamedly difficult, horn-based free-jazz. All three musicians made brilliantly inventive use of amplified distortion to their own very different ends. The results were never less than memorable, and at times, magical.

But then that’s hardly surprising. The whole thing was put on by Donal Dineen. Dineen has by now educated, informed and entertained an entire generation of music lovers with infectious erudition and generosity first on No Disco, and then for 17 years on Today FM. At the end of November, the latter are letting him walk away. One can only assume that someone in Montrose will have the good sense to grab hold of him and install him in RTE, preferably on Lyric. The idea of not being able to tune in to Dineen somewhere on the airwaves is unthinkable.