Monday, February 18, 2019

Review: Tom Petty's 'The Best of Everything'

After a few stale years, seventies rock started getting interesting again in 1976 as punk blew in like a fresh, filthy breeze from the future. At the same time, a brand new band also provided hope for the future even as they unabashedly drew on sounds of the past with their Byrds jangle and Stones toughness. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was one of the most invigorating debuts from a year that also brought us firsts from The Ramones, Blondie, and The Damned, which is saying a hell of a lot.

Yet while the other new bands of 1976 I mentioned would get caught up in trends at times (eighties metal and disco, for example), Tom Petty never did. He never lost sight of his singular goal to make tuneful, tough, terse, truthful rock and roll. If you need proof of that, check out two discs worth of The Best of Everything, a new compilation that dips through most facets of Petty’s career as a leader of Heartbreakers, member of Mudcrutch, solo artist, and Stevie Nicks collaborator (only his days as a Traveling Wilbury are unrepresented, and I doubt anyone will cry too much about that). While there are variations in the slickness of the production, there is little variation in the quality of the music from 1976’s “American Girl” to 2016’s “Trailer”. The fact that there wasn’t room for such essentials as “Change of Heart” and “Woman in Love” also speaks for the strength of career, since there isn’t too much included that I’d swap with them (“Southern Accents” and “American Dream Plan B” are a couple of candidates). There’s also a nice unreleased Heartbreakers track from 2000 called “For Real”.

The one down side to this set—and way too many contemporary releases—is the absurdly brickwalled mastering. Message to masterers: stop doing this. Thanks.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Criterion to Release New Edition of 'Blue Velvet' This May

The union of the Criterion Collection and David Lynch is a match made in heaven (where everything is fine). In recent years, Criterion has produced superb blu-ray editions of Eraserhead and Mulholland Dr. It has also rereleased Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, which had previously been part of the Twin Peaks: Complete Mystery box set. 

Oddly, Criterion's next release also feels slightly redundant considering that several Lynch films (namely The Elephant Man, Lost Highway, The Straight Story, and INLAND EMPIRE) have never been released on blu-ray in the U.S. and because MGM's currently available edition of Blue Velvet looks beautiful. Nevertheless, Blue Velvet will be Criterion's next Lynch release. While this set will include the same Mysteries of Love documentary and deleted footage that adorns MGM's disc, it will also have a feature-length period documentary called "Blue Velvet" Revisited, which Peter Braatz made during the film's production. Aside from those three major features, Criterion's edition of Blue Velvet will also boast a new 4k restoration of the film and 5.1 sound, both supervised by David Lynch, and an alternate stereo soundtrack. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Review: 'Perspectives on Stephen King'

Stephen King has written about 55 novels and there have probably been about that many books written about him and his uncanny ability to give readers the cold sweats. A new one called Perspectives on Stephen King is probably one of the more novel books about King. Andrew J. Rausch conducted interviews with folks who’ve adapted King’s work for the screen, famous fans, fellow horror writers, publishers who’ve worked with him, etc. I suppose the goal was to get a different angle on the writer and maybe uncover some unknown details using an atypical format.

The problem with this format is that interviews usually reveal much more about the interviewee than whatever the topic of the interview is, and Rausch’s questions are not always probing enough to uncover much about King. He regularly asks, “What is Stephen King like?” (most common answer: “a regular guy”), what is King’s greatest strength (“creating relatable characters”), or what was it like working with him (“great”), but he rarely digs much deeper than that, probably because a lot of the interviewees do not seem to know much more about King than what they’ve read in his books. Therefore, some of the interviews yield nothing more revelatory than how 1408 got made or what King’s email writing style is like. Interviews with people like writers C. Courtney Joyner and Joe R. Lansdale, both fans with no direct connection to King, reveal even less (though I’ll admit that as a fan of Lansdale’s work, I still enjoyed his interview).

Interview responses tend to meander too much or skate forward too quickly to serve as deep analysis of the work, and there is an overall tendency to avoid criticizing that work. King-scholar Patrick McAleer comes closest to digging into King’s style and themes, but he too stops short of getting critical enough to provide a sufficiently balanced perspective of the author.

The most interesting interviewees are the ones who worked most intimately with King, such as his co-writer Richard Chizmar (Gwendy’s Button Box) and former researcher Robin Furth. They give insight into King’s generous work methods and his personal generosity, and it’s neat to get a personal and private perspective on his personality and methods.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Review: Vinyl Reissue of The Cardigans' 'First Band on the Moon'

“Love Fool” must have been the most misinterpreted single since “Every Breath You Take” both because lazy listeners didn’t bother to comprehend the self-loathing curdling beneath the single’s chipper sound and because many did not understand that The Cardigans were not the latest in a line of disposable, two-dimensional pop acts. Since releasing the delectably crafted and witty Emmerdale in their home country of Sweden in 1994, The Cardigans were a band unlike any other. Other artists may have appropriated ironic sixties lounge cheese or Pet Sounds-style production or Ray Davies-indebted songwriting, but none combined them as The Cardigans did, and it isn’t likely that any other group would have done it so deftly if they’d tried. Certainly none of them would have serially covered Black Sabbath.

So after making two singular, polished, and perfect pop albums, The Cardigans slipped quite naturally into international mainstream success with First Band on the Moon, largely due to the irresistible disco-pop hooks of “Love Fool”. The rest of the album was just as smart and subversive, sounding almost as sweet as “Love Fool” but expressing the same sour sentiments. First Band on the Moon practically works as a misanthropic concept album about how miserable it can be to fall in love. Tore Johansson’s crisp, multi-layered production with it somewhat more electronic sheen than the relatively organic Emmerdale and Life make it an intricate and dazzling listening experience (especially through headphones), so it’s wonderful that First Band on the Moon is the latest in a welcome series of albums from the CD age lovingly remastered for vinyl. While most nineties albums gain little from vinyl presentation because they were recorded digitally, First Band sounds significantly nicer than its harsh and brittle compact disc counterpart. The only negative is that while all six Cardigans albums are receiving this fine treatment overseas, First Band on the Moon is the only one being released in the U.S., but based on the way First Band sounds, my fellow Yanks may want to spring for international shipping at least on Emmerdale and Life.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Review: 'The Horror Comic Never Dies: A Grisly History'

In the days when the scariest movies offered nothing more potent than guys skulking around in scaly rubber suits, horror comics genuinely shocked and disturbed. On their pages, eyes popped from skulls or were punctured with sharp objects. Entrails spilled. Dripping things clawed out of fetid graves. Horror comics were gross, they were goopy, they were ghastly— so naturally kids loved them. Parents, however, found them disgusting and deleterious. The horror comic issue (pun!) was of such significance that it clawed its way right on up to a series of senate sub-committee hearings in 1954.

If you’re even a casual student of comics history, you already know all this and have probably boned up on the topic (pun!!) by viewing documentaries such as Tales from the Crypt: From Comic Books to Television or reading books such as David Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague. If you’re pressed for time, you can also check out Michael Walton’s new book The Horror Comic Never Dies: A Grisly History, which sprints through the history of horror comics in about 95 pages, understandably lingering on the horror comics scare of the fifties, though not with Hajdu’s level of attention. I’m not sure if I learned anything significant that I didn’t already know, but Walton’s telling of the tale is sprightly and well-written. He uses his next 40 pages to provide conversational, lightly critical synopses of numerous twenty-first century horror comics (and a few films based on horror comics) that may inspire you to discover something you’ve not previously read, though without examples of art this section is missing a major factor for drawing new readers to comics.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Farewell, Julie Adams

Julie Adams was the woman who stole the Gill Man's heart. Although she had a long and varied career that included appearances in some 149 films (especially westerns) and TV shows (One Step Beyond, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Perry Mason, 77 Sunset Strip, The Mod Squad, Murder She Wrote, Lost and many, many more...she also had a regular gig on the Jimmy Stewart Show as the star's wife, Martha), she was always most known and loved as Kay Lawrence in The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Sadly, Adams died yesterday at the age of 92 

Review: 'David Lynch: Someone Is In My House'

David Lynch is mainly known as a creator of film and television, but that is only because film and television are the most popular visual art forms. He actually started living his art life as a painter and illustrator, and has been much, much more prolific in creating such works than film and TV over the past 55-or-so years. This is not news to fans, who have long known that Lynch only began filming in the first place because, as he said in one of his most oft-quoted statements, “I wanted to see my paintings move.”

In a sense, Lynch’s art always moved with or without celluloid. His paintings burst off the materials on which he oozes them. They are swirling, tactile. They are three-dimensional, either because Lynch applies his oils with such a heavy hand or because he actually sinks objects such as glass eyes or dead rats into them. They stare back at you. They seem to decay before your eyes. They speak. They move.

It must madden Lynch to see such massive, dimensional works shrunk down and reproduced on flat paper as they are in the new collection Someone Is in My House (a tie in with an exhibition at the Bonnefantenmuseum in the Netherlands), but as far as art books go, this is a nice one. It infuriates me when artworks are unnecessarily shrunk down for the sake of showing as much white border as possible, and this book does not commit that crime as egregiously as too many other art and photography collections do. This collection also provides a very wide look at Lynch’s varied career, not only presenting many of his paintings, but also his photographs, sculptures, film stills, and even a selection of his “Angriest Dog in the World” comic strips.

Someone Is in My House is also notable for presenting a great deal of work I’ve never seen before. One striking thing about much of this work is how it offers a completely unfiltered gaze into the abyss of his imagination. The dichotomy between Lynch’s affable, charming, sedate personality and the violence and nightmarishness of his films is familiar to anyone who has ever seen Eraserhead or Twin Peaks, but some of the material in this book may shock even the most hardcore fans of his films. Body are mutated and twisted to the extreme across his paintings and manipulated photos. Sexual violence looms queasily in works such as E.D., I Take You to My House, and Do You Want to Know What I Really Think? Works such as Change the Fuckin’ Channel Fuckface and Pete Goes to His Girlfriend’s House distill the explosive anger of Lynch’s most loathsome screen villains from Frank Booth to Fred Madison, and tempt the viewer to conclude that Lynch is only able to suppress similar anger with dedicated meditation. An early sketch depicts an al fresco bestiality orgy. The work is disturbing, sometimes repellant, though sometimes beautiful, like bits clipped from his most harrowing cinematic scenes and dipped in dark oils.

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