‘Elvis’, the trailer, plus a film about music made by a grown up


What a joy to be able to see the world as Baz Luhrmann does, through the eyes of a 9 year old boy. Many 9 and 10 year olds note what plea­sure they get from eat­ing the icing on a cake. And they have the bril­liant idea of ask­ing for one made of noth­ing else. 

But they note their parent’s weary dis­missal of that idea, and they spend a few years inves­ti­gat­ing gas­tron­o­my, learn­ing about appetite and acquir­ing taste. And they come to appre­ci­ate that plea­sure with­out pain, light with­out dark­ness and euphor­ic highs with­out the depths of despair sim­ply can­not be. They are mutu­al­ly dependent.

The Vel­vet Under­ground, Nica and Andy Warhol

But Lurhmann has said, sod that. I’m stay­ing just as I am. And he’s spot­ted how much we all enjoy watch­ing music videos and movie trail­ers, and he’s had the bril­liant idea of mak­ing fea­ture length ver­sions of them. 

So we got Romeo + Juli­ette, which man­ages to defang Shakespeare’s play of its tragedy, and turn it into a pop­tas­tic cos­tume fest. Then there was Moulin Rouge, which was a 2 hour music video, pure and sim­ple. Like­wise The Great Gats­by

Which, I have to con­fess, I’ve not been able to actu­al­ly sit through. So it’s per­fect­ly pos­si­ble that it’s a care­ful­ly con­sid­ered and thought­ful med­i­ta­tion on doomed youth and fin de siè­cle dis­il­lu­sion­ment. But I’m going out on a limb, and pre­sum­ing that it’s just A N Oth­er 2 hour plus music video.

The Vel­vet Under­ground and Nico

And now we have 2 ¾ hour movie trail­er about Elvis. So, as with any trail­er, you get told imme­di­ate­ly who the good­ies and bad­dies are. And every line of dia­logue is on the nose and means exact­ly what it says – just like this sen­tence. And every frame is stuffed full of infor­ma­tion, because you’ve only got two min­utes to tell the audi­ence about all the dif­fer­ent ele­ments in your story. 

Only it doesn’t go on for two min­utes. This is kept up for near­ly three hours. There’s stuff stuffed into every frame and on every cor­ner of the sound­track. It’s like watch­ing a teenage boy who’s just been shown what all the but­tons do in his edit­ing soft­ware. And so pleased is he with all the effects they can pro­duce, that he can’t stop press­ing them, repeat­ed­ly. And he’s com­plete­ly obliv­i­ous to the reac­tion of his par­ents when he shows them what he’s done.

It’s relent­less in its blind bom­bard­ment of the sens­es, and the tedi­um that results is inces­sant and mind-numbing.

The Vel­vet Underground

I always admire though rarely warm to the films of Todd Haynes. But his epony­mous doc­u­men­tary on The Vel­vet Under­ground is an unqual­i­fied joy from start to fin­ish. Seri­ous music from an extra­or­di­nary col­lec­tive who came togeth­er at a fas­ci­nat­ing moment in time. 

Struc­tured in an appro­pri­ate­ly left of field way, it’s a qui­et­ly intel­li­gent and thought­ful film about a unique­ly influ­en­tial band. Their first album is one of the great works of art of the 20th cen­tu­ry. And remark­ably, this film does them justice. 

Watch­ing it after sit­ting through Elvis is like drop­ping your child off at a birth­day par­ty, only to be greet­ed there by the excit­ed stare of the birth­day boy, as he offers you a slice of his sol­id icing cake. When sud­den­ly, you’re tak­en by the elbow and gen­tly led out into the back gar­den, where you’re hand­ed an ice cold beer and a glass of Jame­son. And you sit down togeth­er and lean back to con­tem­plate the stars.

You can see the trail­er for The Vel­vet Under­ground below:

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Asaf Avidan’s new album “Different Pulses”, Israel’s answer to Jimmy Scott.

"Different Pulses".

Dif­fer­ent Pulses”.

When Bob Boilen played the title track from Asaf Avidan’s 2012 album Dif­fer­ent Puls­es on NPR’s All Songs Con­sid­ered (reviewed ear­li­er here) a few weeks ago, you could hear the sound of var­i­ous jaws hit­ting the floor. That’s because the voice of this lat­ter day Janis Joplin belongs in fact to a 33 year old Israeli man.

Unlike poor old Jim­my Scott though, there’s noth­ing unfor­tu­nate about the sound that he pro­duces. It’s just very unusual.

Lit­tle Jim­my Scott, as he was dubbed, was born with Kallmann’s Syn­drome. This meant that he grew to be no taller than four foot eleven until he was into his late thir­ties, when he sud­den­ly spout­ed anoth­er 8 inch­es. The result was that the diminu­tive Scott sound­ed for all the world like a female jazz singer.

Little Jimmy Scott, with fans Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, David Bowie and Antony Hegarty.

Lit­tle Jim­my Scott, with fans Lou Reed, Lau­rie Ander­son, David Bowie and Antony Hegarty.

And sure enough, he was right roy­al­ly screwed by most of the peo­ple he seems to have met in the music indus­try through­out the 50s and 60s. Thor­ough­ly deject­ed and unfair­ly ignored, he retired in the 70s.

Hap­pi­ly though, he was res­cued again in the 1990s by the arche­typ­al out­siders Lou Reed and David Lynch, who pro­vid­ed him with a belat­ed renais­sance. Reed invit­ed him to per­form on his 1992 album Mag­ic and Loss, which was ded­i­cat­ed to their mutu­al friend Doc Pomus. And Lynch brought him in to work on the sec­ond series of Twin Peaks, which you can hear here.

Avi­dan in con­trast seems to be a per­fect­ly con­ven­tion­al man phys­i­cal­ly speak­ing. Which makes the sound he pro­duces all the more remarkable.

Avi­dan began tour­ing his native Israel with his band in 2006, and over the next four or five years they pro­duced 3 huge­ly suc­cess­ful albums, where they quick­ly amassed a siz­able cult fol­low­ing. They went their sep­a­rate ways in 2011 though, and Dif­fer­ent Puls­es is his debut solo album.

If Jim­my Scott had had Janis Joplin’s oomph, and she his vocal range, this is what it might have sound­ed like. Impres­sive­ly, it’s a range and emo­tion­al depth that’s main­tained across the whole album.

Asaf Avidan.

Asaf Avi­dan.

There’s very lit­tle sense how­ev­er of the East or of the Ori­ent. There is occa­sion­al­ly a slight hint of the few years Avi­dan spent on Jamaica soak­ing up their rhythms. But for the most part it’s a rich­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed RnB album that would 40 years ago have been put out by Stax and dis­trib­uted by Atlantic Records. Doc Pomus would been called in to pro­vide a lyric or two. And Jim­my Scott could eas­i­ly have been smug­gled in to pro­vide back­ing vocals. Un-cred­it­ed of course.

You can see the video for Dif­fer­ent Puls­es and hear Avi­dan for your­self here.

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Spiritualized’s “Sweet Heart Sweet Light” Soars.

Jason Pearce formed Spir­i­tu­al­ized in 1990, but it was their third album that sent their rock ’n’ roll stock soar­ing into the stratos­phere in 1997. Ladies And Gen­tle­men, We Are Float­ing In Space seemed to flat­ly con­tra­dict every­thing we’d been told about what hap­pens when you live a life of heed­less hedonism.

Pearce seemed to be spend­ing his every wak­ing hour imbib­ing and ingest­ing any­thing and every­thing he could get his hands on. The result, shock­ing­ly, was an album of majes­tic cohe­sion and soar­ing, unfor­giv­ing grace.

As ever though, the Gods had mere­ly been toy­ing with him. After two decid­ed­ly under­whelm­ing fol­low-up albums, in 2005 he was felled with a par­tic­u­lar­ly vir­u­lent case of pneu­mo­nia. He very near­ly died and was hos­pi­tal­ized for the guts of a year. The next album Songs In A&E had, unsur­pris­ing­ly, some­thing of a ten­ta­tive feel to it.

But a year lat­er in ’09 he start­ed tour­ing Ladies And Gen­tle­men in its entire­ty, as was the fash­ion of the day. And the expe­ri­ence seems to have reju­ve­nat­ed him. The result is this, their 7th stu­dio album.

Once again Pearce has defied the odds by pro­duc­ing an impres­sive­ly coher­ent album, despite being felled yet again by serous ill­ness. This time it was his liv­er, and the cock­tail of, irony of ironies, drugs he was pre­scribed meant that it took him eight months to fin­ish mix­ing it. Hence the sub­ti­tle, Huh? which he explains here on Pitch­fork, and the boys from Prav­da gave it an impressed 8.8 here.

Sweet Heart Sweet Light is both a crys­tal­liza­tion and a sum­ma­tion of every­thing he and Spir­i­tu­al­ized have been work­ing on to date. It has every­thing they do best, and some of the best exam­ples of what they do.

From the open­ing track prop­er, the even-more-Reed-than-Reed Hey Jane (more V U returned with thanks) to the Dr John col­lab­o­ra­tion, I Am What I Am, which is what David Chase would have used for The Sopra­nos if they’d been mak­ing it today. And the whole thing is giv­en son­ic depth and poise by the Ice­landic string quar­tet Ami­ina, long-time col­lab­o­ra­tors with com­pa­tri­ots Sig­ur Ros.

Unsur­pris­ing­ly, it has slight­ly less of the grandeur that Ladies And Gen­tle­men boasts. And instead of the defi­ance and tri­umphant despair of the for­mer, you’re being gen­tly invit­ed in here to break bread and per­chance for a sup of wine.

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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 http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/15996-lou-reed-metallica/.

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.