Archives for August 2012

New “Sitcom” Whitney, Come Back ‘Married With Children’, All Is Forgiven.

Peo­ple have often won­dered what would hap­pen if you gave 100 mon­keys a type­writer and an infi­nite amount of time. Well, now we know what you get if you give it to just the one, and tell it that it has less than ten min­utes to come up with some­thing funny.

Every­thing in Amer­i­ca seems to be one extreme or the oth­er. Either they have so lit­tle inter­est in explor­ing any­where else in the world that they don’t even own a pass­port. Or, they’re the most wide­ly trav­elled and rich­ly cul­tured indi­vid­u­als on the plan­et. There doesn’t ever seem to be any­thing in between. It’s either red state or blue. 

On the one hand you get South Park, The Simp­sons, Curb You Enthu­si­asm, Let­ter­man, Conan and the Lar­ry Sanders Show. But then on the oth­er, there’s The Nan­ny, Rosanne, Mar­ried With Chil­dren, Mike and Mol­ly, and now, Whit­ney.

It’s only when you see Rosanne and Ellen DeGeneres guest­ing on the Lar­ry Sanders Show that you’re remind­ed of quite how sharp and fun­ny they both are, and what won­der­ful com­ic tim­ing they both have. So how do you explain the sit­coms that the net­works cre­at­ed for them?

What a strange beast tele­vi­sion is. It hun­gri­ly grav­i­tates towards the bright­est and most charis­mat­ic indi­vid­u­als it can find. But before it allows those that it dis­cov­ers their 15 min­utes, it insists that they dilute every­thing it was that they were first attract­ed to about them. 

So that when the shows they build around them even­tu­al­ly air, they’ve been ren­dered entire­ly impo­tent. And they’re washed away in a tide of medi­oc­rity and dragged to the murky depths in a sea of platitudes. 

There’s no sit­u­a­tion in Whit­ney. Unlike say Mar­ried With Chil­dren, which is a show about a cou­ple, who are mar­ried, but, and here’s the catch; they have chil­dren!!! Or The Nan­ny, which is a show about a nan­ny, but she has a fun­ny voice!!! Whit­ney’s not about anything.

Nor could it in any way, and how­ev­er vague­ly, be con­sid­ered to be even remote­ly comedic. I await the episode in which they talk at length about whether their toi­let seat should remain up or down.

Yet I’ve no doubt that the come­di­enne that it’s con­struct­ed around, Whit­ney Cum­mings is both smart and fun­ny. She must be to have secured her own show. 

So I hope she’s not been reduced to drink­ing all the mon­ey that they’re pay­ing her in a fit of depres­sion. Because the show that bares her name is alas, about as fun­ny as watch­ing your youngest child being care­ful­ly eat­en by a par­tic­u­lar­ly vin­dic­tive polar bear who appears to be watch­ing you out of the cor­ner of its eye.

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Frank Ocean’s Pitch-Perfect Debut Album “Channel Orange” Soars.


Ever since they arrived so very loud­ly in the hood a cou­ple of years ago, every­one has been won­der­ing who it was that would emerge from the Odd Future collective.

Not with­stand­ing all the bom­bast and sheer noise, it was obvi­ous that some­one would raise their head above the para­pet, and it was sort of assumed that that per­son would be their unof­fi­cial lead singer, Tyler, The Creator. 

But his offi­cial debut solo album Gob­lin (actu­al­ly his sec­ond, and they all of them release a steady stream of mix-tapes) was sur­pris­ing­ly unim­pres­sive, and was reviewed ear­li­er here.

But with the arrival of Chan­nel Orange, the offi­cial debut from Frank Ocean, we have our answer. This is the real deal, and so, clear­ly is he.

Truth be told, he’s not real­ly part of the Odd Future gang, but hooked up with them after they’d already come into being to act as their sort of unof­fi­cial men­tor. He’d moved to LA five years before­hand after Kat­ri­na had dev­as­tat­ed his home town of New Orleans.

By the time Odd Future formed he’d already estab­lished him­self as a suc­cess­ful job­bing song writer, pro­duc­ing work for, amongst oth­ers, John Leg­end and Justin Bieber. You can read more in Jon Cara­man­i­ca’s excel­lent New York Times pro­file here.

Chan­nel Orange charts the same kind of con­fes­sion­al RnB ter­ri­to­ry that Drake mined in last year’s, whis­per it, some­what over-praised Take Care. But whilst the bar­ing of his soul is once again the impe­tus for the album, there is a lot more going on here than that. Ocean is clear­ly a far rich­er writer than Drake, and the panoram­ic vis­tas he evokes are sig­nif­i­cant­ly broader. 

The char­ac­ters that peo­ple “Sweet Life” and “Super Rich Kids” for instance, are clear­ly relat­ed to those that drift through Bret Eas­t­on Ellis’ sem­i­nal Less Than Zero, and to some of those you find more recent­ly in the colour­ful short sto­ries of Junot Diaz. This is a world where exis­ten­tial angst is played out against a back­drop of urban ennui. 

The lat­ter by the way fea­tures Earl Sweat­shirt, the oth­er indi­vid­ual of sub­stance to emerge from Odd Future.

But as Sacha Frere-Jones notes in his New York­er review here, the emo­tion­al heart of the album is “Bad Reli­gion”, per­formed here on the Jim­my Fal­lon Show. It’s also one of the few tracks that alludes to his much dis­cussed sexuality. 

Demon­stra­bly, he’s as impres­sive vocal­ly as he is com­po­si­tion­al­ly. And his abil­i­ty to cooly move in and out and mas­ter any num­ber of gen­res, and to mar­ry them effort­less­ly with pitch-per­fect pro­duc­tion all add up to spell just one thing; Prince.

Ocean is a major find, and this is com­fort­ably one of the albums of the year. 

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Dirty Projectors’ New Album “Swing Lo Magellan”, More Musical Chores from Brooklyn, NYC.

Dirty Pro­jec­tors are anoth­er in that line of bands who go to a great deal of trou­ble try­ing ever so hard to impress. And although you don’t have to come from Brook­lyn to be part of that gang, it cer­tain­ly seems to help. Get those beards a ready for some seri­ous stroking.

Sure enough, their lat­est album Swing Lo Mag­el­lan arrives fes­tooned with praise, much as its pre­de­ces­sor Bitte Orca did.

The boys from Prav­da gave it a hushed 8.8 on Pitch­fork, here. And you’ve that sense of oblig­a­tion as you lis­ten to it, that this is some­thing that you real­ly ought to be appre­ci­at­ing. But once again this is an album that refus­es res­olute­ly to do any­thing as mun­dane as actu­al­ly engage. 

Instead, all you get as you lis­ten to it is the impres­sion that the smartest boys in the class have been locked into their favourite sci­ence lab with a bunch of old 80s vinyl, some ear­ly Orange Juice, Thomas Dol­by, a bit of Heav­en 17, and told to find as many math­e­mat­i­cal­ly inter­est­ing ways of build­ing on their son­ic structures. 

The results are cer­tain­ly nev­er dull. But every time a melody threat­ens to raise its head, it’s ruth­less­ly beat­en down with a fan­tas­ti­cal­ly com­plex time sig­na­ture. Or the kind of melod­ic under­min­ing favoured by Thelo­nious Monk. Or just some good old fash­ioned, aton­al dis­so­nance. And it’s hard not to find your­self won­der­ing, any chance of a tune?

It does briefly threat­en to come to life with track 3, “Gun Has No Trig­ger”, the video for which you can see here. But like “Two Doves” from Bitte Orca, all that does is give you a sense of what might have been. 

As those two tracks show, the band’s front man David Longstreth has gath­ered togeth­er three fan­tas­tic female vocal­ists. What a pity he does­n’t make more use of them. 

Instead, all he sounds like is a teenage boy try­ing to impress the girls with all the many things he knows and is all too eager to tell them about, at great length. When all they want is for him to engage with them, emo­tion­al­ly. 

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The New Yorker Magazine, A Beam of Light Illuminating Innumerable Worlds.

The New York­er staff writer Jon­ah Lehrer resigned in July, after even­tu­al­ly being forced to admit that a num­ber of the quotes he’d attrib­uted to Bob Dylan in his best sell­ing book Imag­ine: How Cre­ativ­i­ty Works had been made up by him.

You can read about it here in The Wash­ing­ton Post, or you can get the full account of pre­cise­ly how he was unmasked by the man respon­si­ble, Michael C. Moyni­han, in his fas­ci­nat­ing piece in The Tablet, here.

Inevitably, some peo­ple have sug­gest­ed that this could be as dam­ag­ing for The New York­er as Jayson Blair was for The New York Times after sim­i­lar behav­ior there. 

But Lehrer’s “lies” were in his best sell­ing book, not the mag­a­zine. And if any­thing, what both cas­es point to is how increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult it is to get away with that kind of dis­hon­esty in this day and age. Espe­cial­ly when you write for a pub­li­ca­tion like The New York­er, which is so just­ly famed for the qual­i­ty of its writ­ing and the metic­u­lous care with which each and every piece is put together.

I’ve been sub­scrib­ing for about ten years now, and I waft about the place in a per­ma­nent state of won­der at the qual­i­ty of each and every issue.

The July 9th and 16th edi­tion for instance con­tained the fol­low­ing (there are 47 issues every year so some of the hol­i­day issues cov­er two weeks, instead of the usu­al one):

There was a fas­ci­nat­ing if inevitably depress­ing overview by Dex­ter Filkins of where Afghanistan is after ten years of US occu­pa­tion, and what’s like­ly to hap­pen there after they leave in 2014. 

At over 10,000 words long, there are few if any oth­er pub­li­ca­tions in the world pre­pared to pro­vide their writ­ers with that kind of win­dow, and to give them the funds need­ed to con­duct the sort of research a piece like that demands.

Then there was a piece by Michael Specter on Oxitec and the genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied mos­qui­tos that they’ve released into cer­tain care­ful­ly con­trolled envi­ron­ments in the Caribbean and, now, in Brazil. These have been genet­i­cal­ly designed to self-destruct.

What will the unfore­seen con­se­quences be of releas­ing crea­tures cre­at­ed by man in the lab­o­ra­to­ry into the envi­ron­ment? On the oth­er hand, very unusu­al­ly, mos­qui­tos appear to exist for the sole pur­pose of reproducing. 

They don’t seem to be part of any­thing else’s diet, and the only crea­ture they seem to rely on is us. And they’re respon­si­ble for half the deaths in the his­to­ry of human­i­ty. So sure­ly the pos­si­bil­i­ty of elim­i­nat­ing them is some­thing to be welcomed?

Nathan Heller had a piece on the uber-hip TED talks and their mes­sian­ic advocates. 

And there were won­der­ful­ly illu­mi­nat­ing and qui­et­ly mov­ing extracts from the diary kept by the Amer­i­can writer Mavis Gal­lant as she strug­gled to bal­ance being a woman, a writer, and an Amer­i­can try­ing to eek out a liv­ing in the detri­tus that was left of Europe in the after­math of the II World War.

Then there are their sta­ble of crit­ics. Antho­ny Lane on cin­e­ma, Alex Ross on clas­si­cal music, Judith Thur­man on fash­ion and Peter Schjel­dahl on art, to name but four of their unflap­pable titans. Plus the finan­cial page, their Shouts and Mur­murs (Joel Stein was par­tic­u­lar­ly fun­ny in this issue), their car­toons and of course their fiction.

It’s a slow week when I man­age to fin­ish read­ing an entire issue in any giv­en week, and the short sto­ry that they pub­lish is usu­al­ly, alas, an inevitable casu­al­ty. But I make an excep­tion for William Trevor, Junot Diaz (who had a piece in the fol­low­ing issue), Alice Munroe, Colm Tóibín and any of the old­er pieces by Updike or Nabokov that they occa­sion­al­ly publish.

It is by a coun­try mile the best writ­ten, most metic­u­lous­ly researched and impec­ca­bly curat­ed pub­li­ca­tion in the world. And at a lit­tle over $100 a year for a sub­scrip­tion, it’ll cost you bare­ly two Euro a week. If you’ve any curios­i­ty at all, about any­thing under the sun, you should treat your­self now.

And so what if you don’t man­age to fin­ish read­ing it (or even open­ing it) every week. Your read and unread copies will be greed­i­ly wel­comed by friends and fam­i­ly alike.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below, and I shall keep you post­ed every week with All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Tele­vi­sion and Music!

The New Norah Jones Album “Little Broken Hearts” Sings.

For the usu­al five min­utes there in the autumn of 2001, all the talk was about an intox­i­cat­ing songstress who man­aged to deliv­er grown-up pop, infused with Nashville and gen­tly draped in the soft vel­vet of can­dle-lit lounge.

But then Norah Jones went and did some­thing unfor­giv­able. She released a debut album the fol­low­ing Feb­ru­ary that went on to sell over 20 mil­lion copies. This she com­pound­ed by tak­ing her overnight fame with a casu­al shrug of the shoul­ders. And if all that weren’t bad enough, she had to look like that.

None of which is ter­ri­bly fair. It’s hard­ly her fault is hers is the sound that ends up lin­ing the walls of every bou­tique, lift and shop­ping mall in the west­ern world. 

Nonethe­less, there was a sense that when she teamed up with Dan­ger Mouse (aka Bri­an Bur­ton) last year, she was qui­et­ly try­ing to ever so slight­ly dis­tance her­self from the Norah Jones of old.

She’d been called in by Bur­ton to pro­vide vocals for three of the tracks on his Leone/Morricone inspired Rome (reviewed ear­li­er here). And unsur­pris­ing­ly, giv­en how well that turned out, the pair have teamed up offi­cial­ly now to joint­ly pro­duce her new album, Lit­tle Bro­ken Hearts.

The oth­er ingre­di­ent in the mix, as the title sug­gests, is a gal called Miri­am, and it’s she and what she gone done that has end­ed up giv­ing Jones some­thing to get her teeth stuck into.

Well it ain’t easy to stay in love, if you can’t tell a lie, So I’ll just have to take a bow, and say good-bye, she sings on the sec­ond track “Say Good­bye”. And as the album pro­gress­es, her bit­ter­ness gen­tly ris­es to the sur­face until even­tu­al­ly, Miri­am is unmasked.

As Sasha Frere-Jones notes in his review of it in the New York­er here, she man­ages to deft­ly walk the line between tak­ing her music to the next step, but doing so with­out alien­at­ing her loy­al, not to say vast fan base. In this regard, Bur­ton in the ide­al, indeed the only choice to act as her foil.

As ever then, plush, lush, rich vel­vet, but with an edge.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below, and I shall keep you post­ed every week with All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Tele­vi­sion and Music!