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

Elvis

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.