Friday, August 7, 2009

August 2009

Album of the Month

Future of the Left : Travels with Myself

Rock has lost its anger. An artform built on ranting about social injustices spends more time marketing than marching. It is all too readily apparent; the bands we purport to follow have either lost the capacity to rage or are too comfortable to care. Rarely are we treated to bands spitting and seething into the microphone seeking to wake us up to ideas and ideals. Are we all satisfied with our lot?

Welsh trio Future of the Left are apparently not and demonstrate it admirably in this months Album of the Month, Travels With Myself And Another. This is their second album after emerging from the remnants of the acerbic post-Britpop era band McClusky. They are led by the engaging character Andy Falkous whose lyrics don't so much roll of the tongue, as emerge somehow between a clenched jaw and a tongue-in-cheek.

The songs are streams-of-consciousness poetic diatribes about any and everything. Sometimes his targets are clear, often not. The Hope That House Built perhaps purports to comment on the credit crisis, Drink Nike seems to comment on consumerism and That Damned Fly maybe launches a tirade against rapacious music agents. Who knows, who cares? Do we know what Dylan meant on every line? Do we want to know. Art is about what you get out of it not what someone tells you its about. And there is enough material here, that despite the short 33 minute running time, you could spend days exploring its corridors and hallways.

Musically, its right on cue. Sharp, staccato guitar bursts, heavy drums, shouted vocals accompanied by fuzzy, dirty rhythms setting a scene of angst and anarchy. But yet there are hints of driving rhythms, and even some melodies breaking out here and there. The capacity to surprise is an artists biggest weapon.

The best track is probably the last, entitled Lapsed Catholics which starts with spoken musings on the best movie prison break, and finishes a frenetic 4 minutes later in a thunderous finale. Monumental.

So if you are sitting at your desk looking at your computer wondering what happened to your passions while you were busy growing up, go out and purchase Travels With Myself And Others. Then take it home, listen to it loud, and put your head out the window to scream "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more!".

In fact you can purchase or listen to it here

Try this if you like:

Rage Against The Machine : Rage Against the Machine
Green Day : American Idiot
Beastie Boys : Paul's Boutique

If you like this try :
Les Savy Fav : Let's Stay Friends

Essential Classic

Bruce Springsteen : Born To Run (1975)

"I have seen rock and roll's future and its name is Bruce Springsteen". So goes the folklore of the encounter between Jon Landau and the aforementioned Bruce Springsteen after Landau saw The Boss in concert in 1974 and wrote about it in Rolling Stone. It was a timely endorsement for the man who would become the biggest star in the 1980s. After two albums which had received tepid reviews and mediocre sales, Columbia Records were getting impatient with an artist whose undoubted live prowess wasn't translating into bankable record sales.

With one last chance given, Springsteen entered the studio attempting to get that live sound down on tape and produce the masterpiece everyone said he was capable of. With Landau now producing, the result of the lengthy sessions was the album Born to Run, which became one of the greatest rock records of all time and is our Essential Classic album of the month.

Born to Run
is an incredible album. It captures the essence of the artist who establishes a dialogue with his listeners while simultaneously leading them to a higher plane. His dreams are our dreams, his travails our problems. Musically, its exciting, brash and bold. It strikes a nimble balance between bombastic anthems and intensely personal portraits, something his later albums do not. It almost consumed him during its recording, but the result is, by far, his best work.

The title track is justifiably famous and still thrills to this day. It has an urgency bubbling under its surface throughout; a gasoline soaked bonfire one spark away from exploding. It urges, cajoles, and inspires. It also contains one of rock and roll's great lyrics coming after the guitar solo;

"Highway jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive
Everybody's out on the run tonight but there's no place left to hide

Born to Run (the album) is also a singular reminder of the art of the album itself whereby great artists put effort into every single track as part of the overall thematic notion. Albums today have only a couple of decent tracks so its no wonder everyone downloads singles or waits for Greatest Hits. No doubt a Bruce Springsteen Greatest Hits collection would include the title track, and perhaps the redoubtable Thunder Road and move on. But dear readers, look at the tracks you would be missing:

Tenth Avenue Freeze Out - such a good track that he played it at the halftime show at last years Superbowl. A sax led, New Orleans influenced, boogie wonder.

- stomping drums, screeching sax and snappy piano lead this tale of night time pursuits

- starting with a gorgeous piano intro, this song builds into a thunderous crescendo. Probably my favourite track.

She's The One
- the most overtly romantic of the tracks but not really a ballad. More of an ode to unrequited love. Subtly titillating without being coarse.

Meeting Across The River
- shivers travel up your spine as a solo trumpet (in the distance) leads into this maudlin tale.

- a mini-opera in itself, justifiably famous. and closing the album with equal measures of grandeur and modesty. Mesmerising.

He is still a live phenomenon, still an icon of New Jersey, still reminding us of the vitality of rock and roll each and every time he goes on stage. But it matters not. He could've gone into recluse and with Born To Run we would still have enough material to continuing listening to the Boss for a lifetime.

Listen to or buy here

If you like this try:

Bruce Springsteen : Darkness on the Edge of Town
John Hiatt : Bring the Family
The Hold Steady : Boys and Girls in America

Top Ten List

Last month saw some very sad news come over the wires with the extremely untimely passing of the great John Hughes. Hughes was the director of such teen classics as The Breakfast Club, 16 Candles, Pretty in Pink and the indefatigable Ferris Buellers Day Off. I watched the latter the night I heard of his death and laughed all the way through despite having seen it at least a dozen times. Without doubt the best scene is the parade where Ferris gets up and sings 'Danke Schoen' followed by a rip-roaring lip-synched version of 'Twist and Shout'. Watching the latter got me thinking, what are the best uses of music in films? Movies are replete with background music and scenes accompanied by familiar tracks. But what are the absolute best uses of music in films? So this months top ten is:

The Top Ten Uses of Music in Film (with video evidence of course)

10. Bugsy Malone : We Could've Been Anything That We Wanted To Be
The kiddie gangster flick that marked, among other things, Jodie Foster's movie debut. The film is sensational but it is brought to a brilliant climax by the all time greatest food fight scene every recorded on film. The fight scene is brought to an abrupt and poignant end by this sensational track which highlights the film's themes of togetherness and camaraderie. Fantastic.
See the scene here.

9. Top Gun : You've Lost That Loving Feeling
In a movie memorable for a lot of things, this is perhaps the best scene. Showcasing all that is annoying and compulsive about every character Tom Cruise played in the 80s. Brimming with confidence and arrogance, Maverick and co woo 'Charlie' with this old time classic. I can also confirm from personal experience that it's deceptively easy to get a crowd singing along to this song!
See the scene here.

8. The Rocky Horror Picture Show : Time Warp
Nosing out the possibly superior track Sweet Transvestite, Time Warp is definitely the best musical moment in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Richard O'Brien (the kiwi born writer of the film), slowly and seductively starts the 'Horror' on the stroke of midnight introducing the audience to perverted and prurient worlds lurking behind locked doors. Look out also for appearance from Charles Gray as the narrator ('Its just a jump to the left'), better known as Blofeld in the James Bond series.
See the scene here.

7. Apocalypse Now : Ride of the Valkyries
A scene that would probably appear on a list of top ten movie scenes of all time is the helicopter attack in Apocalypse Now. It is memorably scored by the triumphant Ride of the Valkyries composed by Richard Wagner in 1851. Perhaps the inimical Colonel Kilgore is best placed to describe its effectiveness; 'We use Wagner. It scares the hell outta the slopes. My boys love it! '. A case could also be made for including The End by The Doors which plays over the opening credits and the compelling final scenes.
See the scene here.

NB: The same track is also used to good effect in The Blues Brothers during the Nazi chase scene as seen here.

6. The Full Monty : You Can Leave Your Hat On
Despite being a complete rip-off of the New Zealand play Ladies Night, The Full Monty was an international box-office smash success. The film finishes with the final striptease scene which left audiences, both ladies and gentlemen, in tears of laughter as the boys go 'all the way' to the sultry tones of Tom Jones.
See the scene here.

5. Wayne's World : Bohemian Rhapsody
Wayne: I'll think we'll go with a little Bohemian Rhapsody.
Garth : Good call.
And so we are introduced to the lovable Wayne and Garth, stars of the late night cable show Wayne's World. Heading into town, the lads and their friends sing-a-long to the beyond great Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. Its always tricky to include such an iconic song in a movie but its inclusion in Waynes World even enhances its legendary status. It reminds us of its greatness during a cathartic six minutes. Now, whenever you listen to the song amongst others, its almost impossible NOT to nod your head vigorously at the climatic head-banging moment. Essential.
See the scene here.

4. Reservoir Dogs : Stuck In The Middle With You
Similarly to the great Martin Scorcese, Quentin Tarantino has a gift for choosing slightly off-beat but ultimately inspired songs to go with iconic scenes. Who can forget Son of a Preacher Man or Girl, You'll Be A Women Soon from Pulp Fiction. But surely the best has to be the bright and cheerful, Stuck In The Middle With You to accompany the sadistic Mr Blonde cutting off a cop's ear. The song is introduced by the laconic comedian, Steven Wright who sounds, as ever, incredibly excited by it all.
Check out the scene here. (WARNING: NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH).

3. Rocky : Gonna Fly Now
Inarguably one of the most inspirational theme songs ever which perfectly captures the 100 - 1 longshot story of the film. I simply love the part where the camera tracks him jogging, then running, and finally sprinting down the pier. Great stuff. Makes me want to get up and go running hard right now!
Check out the scene here.

2. 2001 : Blue Danube
A ground-breaking film in a number of ways, 2001 also notably accompanied stunning visual sequences with elegant pieces of familiar classical music. The most brilliant is the use of the Johann Strauss II's Blue Danube during the shuttle docking scene. It seems a strange choice at first. Kubrick initially commissioned a composer to write a movie score before determining that audiences might find the visual images somewhat disconcerting and disorientating. He thus theorized that they might be more comforted if such images were accompanied by familiar music. The Blue Danube is an inspired choice, accompanying space ships dancing to a timeless waltz played out in the vacuum of space.
Check out the scene here.

and the No 1. top use of music in films is:

1. Tiny Dancer - Almost Famous
One of the finest movies of the Noughties, Almost Famous is the brilliant film outlining the semi-autobiographical tale of a young writer joining a band on a road trip. Along the way, it somehow manages to distil the story of rock's corporatisation, the travails of struggling bands and what it was like to grow up in the 70s. But, at its essence, it understands what we love most about music. And no scene demonstrates this better than the bus scene when Russell is brought back onto the bus after a night out on LSD. The bus moves away and the delicate piano arpeggio of Elton John's Tiny Dancer starts up. Slowly, the band starting singing along with the verses until everyone is loudly singing the chorus all together. Music, if nothing else, brings people together. No matter your age, colour, creed or credit history, we all have a love of music in common. So combine a great movie, a great scene and a great song, and you have the best movie musical moment of all time.
Check out the unforgettable scene here.

I think this Top 10 is bound to be controversial and there is no objective test for what is a great movie musical moment. But which ones have I missed (apart from Ferris himself who is almost certainly somewhere in Top 5!) Leave a comment or email me with your thoughts on the best musical moments in films.

Thats all for another month.


1 comment:

Rob said...

Nice, but no Bond?