Posts from August 2011
On holiday last week I read Grant Morrison’s Supergods. It’s an odd book: a cocktail of blazing-eyed fandom, autobiography and critical history. It’s great at the first two of these, quite poor at the third – a possible problem since the critical history (of superhero comics, and the wider idea of the superhero) is what the book’s built around.
The good stuff first: Supergods is at its best when Morrison is intoxicated by comics, which he is a lot. He riffs creatively on the contrasting covers of Action Comics 1 and Fantastic Four 1, but his best material here is less concrete. Talking about his boyhood favourites – John Broome’s Flash, Weisinger-era Superman, Roy Thomas’ Avengers, Kirby’s New Gods, and Starlin’s “cosmic” Marvel stuff – Morrison’s writing goes into thrilled meltdown. He talks in the acknowledgements about the hard process of editing the book but these sections read like sheer first-draft enthusiasm. I can’t think of anything I’ve read which captures so well the mind-exploding power of comics when you’re the right age to really get hit by them.
“Ain’t No Doubt” plants its emotional flag in territories claimed and mapped by Phil Collins – that master of gangrenous wrath and bitterness lurking below blokery’s rumpled jacket. It’s break-up pop of the shabbiest kind; lies, quarrels and wilful miscommunication played out raw in front of us. On TV Nail played hard bastards, for laughs or drama or both – some of the intrigue of his pop career must have been seeing a more sensitive element in him, but I doubt the straight-talking, bullshit-calling narrator of “Ain’t No Doubt” came as much of a shock to the fanbase.
53: The Box (DVD)
I missed The Box in the cinema, it being my year without film. It is the kind of film I would normally jump at, liking claustrophobic paranoid fantasies, films based on Twilight Zone episodes, Cameron Diaz, James Marsden and even not minding Richard Kelly*. And it starts promisingly enough, with a decent period scene setting and some nicely sympathetic leads. And then Frank Langella turns up at the door with the Box. The Box is a nice, cheap, period looking piece of technology – with its big red button under a dome. But the box isn’t the problem. The box and what it leads to may be as preposterous as anything thrown at us in Kelly’s other films but at least has a semblance of fun fantasy storytelling around it. The problem is Langella. Or at least his digital face.
Langella has played some of the greatest villains known to man. Insert Richard Nixon and Skeletor jokes here.
I’ve always found it hard to get a handle on Erasure. I end up filing them in the same headspace as ELO: remarkably successful, remarkably long-lived pop craftsmen who are generally – as here – enjoyable but only very rarely hit any sort of emotional or even conceptual payday. After playing all four ABBA-esque covers I couldn’t help myself: I cued up the Pet Shop Boys’ “Where The Streets Have No Name / Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” medley and had forgotten anything I might have liked about Erasure within ten seconds.
But they were never a poor man’s PSBs – there was something intriguingly different about Erasure, the way their two halves never quite gelled: Vince Clarke’s sleek, tidy, heads-down synthpop and Andy Bell’s roaming, reaching vocals. On their best singles the clash was productive – a track like “Drama” seems lopsided and unwieldy but it absolutely works: both men are fizzing and they end up going in the same direction. More often the potential was missed: on their worse tracks one or the other seemed bored.
Well it might as well be. Myself and Tim of this parish, and Meggean who is one person removed from the FT Collective (she is my old flatmate), were featured heavily on Radio 4’s Soul Music show this week – basically we get the last fifteen minutes. The subject was Wichita Lineman, and the show also features Jimmy Webb and Glenn Campbell (and some bloke who really likes Johnny Cash). We were tapped up by this FT article, so writing rubbish on the internet really does sometimes lead to talking rubbish on the radio.
You can listen again to it here, via the Radio 4 website.. Or its repeated on Saturday afternoon at 3.30pm.
51: Super 8 (Cinema)
Super 8 is an homage to Spielbergian kids fantasy films of the early eighties. Its more than that actually, its DNA is plainly on display. Its Mom (correct word in this context) is ET, its Dad is The Goonies. We have a gang of kids (Goonies) who discover something remarkable and alien (ET). And its interesting that the setting, and the characters hark back to a bucolic seeming small town America which I get the sense that JJ Abrams believes doesn’t quite exist any more. You get the sense the turning point was rap music (the music in Super 8 is all over the place, though follows the “if in doubt, use ELO” model).
Two threads run though my friend Marcello’s The Blue in the Air: one’s a fear, rarely directly stated; and the other’s a trust, a implicit confidence, a gamble. Between them, these oblique stances, very different but very connected, lure or impel us through an astonishing maze of music, much of it very likely unfamiliar, from radical free improv to one-off novelty pop, via every imaginable sheeptrack or rat-run or scenic bus ride…
Hello everyone – a six-week hiatus is no kind of way to treat a blog, let alone one with such a strong and interesting community as Popular. There are plenty of factors here – family illness, a summer of dramatic and distracting events, changes at work (of which more below), paid writing, and more. Something had to give: Popular was it. Hopefully it won’t happen again: even writing about a song as piss-weak as KWS reminded me how much I enjoy doing this.
Some good news, though: from October I’m switching to working four days a week, leaving a day entirely free for writing (paid, unpaid, long-term projects). If nothing else, that should stablilise Popular – hopefully it’ll lead to other interesting things too.
In the meantime, I hope you’ve had a good Summer, and see you here for the rest of it.
It’s hard to muster much love for “Please Don’t Go” – a barely adequate trot through a good song. “Begging” has never sounded so thoroughly rote. It’s a good example, though, of one of the nineties least-regarded, most revival-immune style, the generic dance cover version.
Dance music is notorious for its stylistic interbreeding, its rapid mutation: a music constantly in flux. Tracks like “Please Don’t Go” are what happens when dance stands still: the basic chassis of house music turned into a plastic mould that can be applied to any old song. From KWS to Mad House’s Madonna versions, any given 90s chart seemed to have a handful of these things in it. Pundits now complain about the effects of instant access to (almost) anything on popular culture, but let’s not forget that when people can remember something and not access it, the resulting gap doesn’t always produce productive mis-rememberings. It also produces cheap knock-offs. “Please Don’t Go” isn’t quite as deathly as the king of the dance cover version, Undercover’s formica take on “Baker Street”, but it’s never memorable. That this nullity got five weeks at the top says more about the immobile singles chart than any double-digit run.
A quick shout-out, though, to its notional double A-Side, the unremembered “Game Boy”, which is as near as we’re ever going to come to a hardcore track in Popular. As ‘ardkore goes, it’s poor, a collection of five years of weary dance tropes in search of even one good hook – Beltram-style hoover noises, house piano, cut-up vocal samples, a dubby bassline, none of them sticking around long enough to make an impact. It reminds me more of cover-mounted CD-Rs (“100 Banging Sounds”) on computer music mags than any kind of clubbing experience. But it’s there.
Clearly I am massively behind on this project, as is often the way with FT projects. But whilst there is usually something interesting to say about any film, sometimes there is not MUCH interesting to be said. So here is a stab at quickly trying to simultaneously cut my list shorter, and get to the heart of the matter with a lot of these films…
41. The Navigator (Cinema)
Minor Buster Keaton, which has some typically well staged physical humour and innovation. It does seem to be missing Good but it does seem to be missing a whole third act, though I didn’t see its deus ex submariner coming. To be more precise it is missing Act 2 Scenes 1 & 2, all of act three and would probably be considerably better without its somewhat racist (though not at the time of course) canibles.