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.