No Need For That, Now

I just wrote about 500 words of a rant, which I called The Flip-Flop, that basically detailed how, contrary to my personal status quo for the past decade or so, I now feel more at ease in the city than the country. All of this stemmed from an overnight trip I made to my mother's place, where I was nearly killed three times on country roads by aggressive & irresponsible hillbilly drivers.


Another Adendum

What was I thinking? I suppose I wasn't... After carefully considering my top 20 films, I left off two standards...

Raiders of the Lost Ark, Steven Spielberg, 1981.

Of course the impending Kingdom of the Crystal Skull brought this back to mind. I'm finding there are quite a few people these days who have not seen this... never you mind the lack of CGI, youngsters- there's none in the new film either, yet I bet you'll be in the theatre. This is the most exciting film I've ever seen. There were a couple of moments in The Fellowship of the Ring that matched this excitement when I first saw it (eg. the crazy collapsing scene in the Mines of Moria), and upon seeing The Phantom Menace, the first ten minutes were Raiders-promising- but we all know how far that spun down the turlet once a certain J.J.B. came running out of the woods. From beginning to end, though, this film thrills no matter how many times I see it.

Wings of Desire, Wim Wenders, 1987.

Again, this was such an obvious top 20 choice that I just missed it completely. An angel named Damiel, played by Bruno Ganz, decides he doesn't want his wings anymore and descends to live among the people and experience earthly pleasures. Favorite lines come from Peter Falk, who plays himself and has an encounter with Damiel at the honeywagon on a film set-
"See this? This is a cuppa coffee.
This is a cigarette.
Put them together, and this is heaven."
Now that's my favorite line, but the rest of the script is poetic and gorgeous. The angels can hear what people are thinking, and it's so touching you'll die and go to heaven yourself.
I once saw Bruno Ganz walking down the street, in a trenchcoat similar to the one he wears in this film. I know he was probably in town to shoot a film, but I still like to think that I saw an angel.



R.E.M.- Accelerate

It's been a little over a year since I offered up thoughts on a new recording. Last time it was Neon Bible, by Arcade Fire, the first band that, with their previous record, grabbed me (and many, many others) by the short hairs and shook me to the musical bone. The yardstick by which I measure such rock and roll dreams come true has ever been R.E.M., and lo, they have a brand-new recording that is being hailed worldwide as a striking comeback.
On the market for only three days, listened to, oh, maybe six times from beginning to end, so- is this to be a knee-jerk review? I cast my mind back to the very first times I heard Green, Out of Time, Automatic for the People- immediate, gobsmacked wonder as soon as I pressed play. Usually this signals to me that I'll quickly tire of the material, but I'm still listening to each of those records semiregularly to this day- not to mention most of their back catalogue.

Yet this hasn't happened for quite some time- anyone who follows popular music will tell you that the general opinion has been that, since drummer Bill Berry left the band (conveniently, perhaps brilliantly, right after they were signed to an $80 million contract), the remaining three have been flailing about and throwing shit sandwiches onto the market. The self-proclaimed 'three legged-dog' R.E.M. have released a record for each leg since- Up, Reveal, and Around the Sun, and the praise for Accelerate has largely been formed in context with these LPs.
Some have compared it to the politically charged, guitar-driven Document from 1987, and the similarly 'rocking' Lifes Rich Pageant, from the year previous. No one should compare it to Murmur, their debut, or Reckoning, its follow-up, both of which are regularly referred to as essential items in the very canon of American music. Yet this collective R.E.M. as-four-piece- catalogue forms the basis for general categories of judgement that I've long adhered to when it comes to this band.

Firstly- musical innovation. From Murmur straight through Automatic for the People, this band has been completely unpredictable, practically sounding like a different band upon certain releases.
Secondly- frigging beautiful, universal songs. Your average Joe these days will default to Everybody Hurts, but take Perfect Circle, Camera, Wendell Gee, The Flowers of Guatemala, King of Birds, You Are The Everything, Half a World Away, Sweetness Follows, Let Me In, Be Mine- one from each of their first eleven records- and you've got yourself one staggeringly gorgeous mixtape.
Thirdly- killer pop songs. The One I Love, Stand, Losing My Religion, The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite, Man on the Moon- pretty ridiculous.

So these are the places I go, the tools I use when a new recording comes along. Up is pretty beautiful. Not for everyone, but remains interesting. Reveal, I think, is their bullshit record (All The Way to Reno (You're Gonna Be A Star)? Nope.), but has a couple of great tracks (The Lifting, I've Been High), and one classic of R.E.M. brand beauty (Beat A Drum). Around the Sun is unfairly derided, even by the band themselves. I think it's a passable heartbreak record, and more consistent than the previous two.
I think it's fascinating to watch artists work through things, and R.E.M., with perhaps the most creative leeway of any group on a major label, has been doing it in front of the entire world for the entirety of the 21st century.

Hence the big jizz-in-the-pants reaction to Accelerate. Yeah, they've got some focus back, yes, like their best recordings they sound like a brand new band, and a good one- but an interesting one?
Even on a first listen this album tends to wash over one in an indistinct blur of sound-without-melody. Living Well is the Best Revenge, Accelerate, Sing for the Submarine, and Horse to Water are all tight and propulsive, but the commitment and sincerity that made even the most indistinct tracks from
Lifes Rich Pageant is missing. And the political themes- at one time Michael Stipe was practically a voice in the wilderness when it came to voicing political concern; nowadays he strikes me as riding the status quo. All of the above tracks remind me of, wait for it, Pearl Jam's last, similarly lauded record, as does Until the Day is Done, an environmental thing that could have come from Eddie Vedder's Into the Wild soundtrack. And Houston, concerning the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, might be the biggest waste of time R.E.M. has ever committed to tape. Where's the beauty, guys? Where are the melodies?

I'm getting pissed here, however. I should calm down. Man-Sized Wreath impresses me a bit, but mainly from hearing the smoking live version they put down in Dublin last year. Mr. Richards is, I think, my favorite track, and the only one that approaches the catchy/creative mojo they had going so well at their popular peak. Hollow Man might speak to me were I in an unsatisfied frame of mind. And the only song that does speak to me is the first single, Supernatural Superserious- which calls up memories of my high school days/daze, practically telling myself back to me and reminding me of when these guys ruled my very soul. But speaking through nostalgia is nowhere near as effective as engaging with immediacy.

One comment I made in my Neon Bible review was that I felt I wasn't in the right place, physically or emotionally, to connect properly with it. Then I got my ass to Montreal to see Arcade Fire live, listened to Neon Bible while buzzing around the city, and it made much more sense. Yet, that record, like this one, has an apocalyptic theme/vibe. Again, with both albums I feel they may have made more sense two years ago, when in my life I found myself living, driving, and working in various industrially ugly locales, smack in the worst era of Bush-hating, we're-all-fucked panic, and listening to doomsday-portenting, then-current recordings like Bright Eyes' I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning. It feels like R.E.M. is behind the times on this one. Things, though still fucked, are on the up-and-up in America- a celebratory sense would have been welcome, but for the sake of objectivity one has to take into account that these songs were written over the course of the last four years.

So perhaps this is just another step toward this band working on all fours (threes?) again. Perhaps, in a couple of years, things will all come together again in a weird, gestalt-y moment like they did for Document or Automatic for the People. But, if not, we've still got those records. And I'm not tired of them.