Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Houses of the Holy Christmas

On the first day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
A copy of Physical Graffiti.

Yep, `tis the season for ... all things Led Zeppelin. (Santa has yet to bring me an early Christmas present of concert tickets to the reunion concert, however. Bah, humbug!)

The surviving trio is on the cover of the new Rolling Stone with a piece written by legendary rock critic David Fricke (who also penned the liner notes of "Mothership"). The RS website has an excerpt from the article, which includes details about some of the songs played at the first rehearsal. There are also Led Zeppelin cover stories in the new Mojo, Guitar World, and Classic Rock magazines.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Coldplaying Coldplay

Since Coldplay is close to finishing up its new album, produced by Brian Eno, I decided to reevaluate the band’s third album, “X&Y,” during a recent car trip. It’s still a bloated affair: overly long and Hugh Padgham-like production. The band seemed unsure of how to evolve the way that they'd managed to do during the lunar-stride leap from "Parachutes" to "Rush of Blood to the Head." Musically, "X&Y" finds Coldplay arcing in a creative cul de sac with no choice but to circle back on familiar-sounding constructions and motifs. The dreadful cover looks like a screen grab of a Tetris game that's all but over.

But once I’d brushed aside poor-to-middling songs such as “The Hardest Part” and “Swallowed by the Sea,” I was pleased to reacquaint myself with “Talk” and “Square One.” Moreover, I can confidently declare “Low” – with its euphoric climax swooping in, cavalry-like, at the last minute – to be the greatest achievement of the band’s young career. A concert highlight, too. But the real rediscovery for me was “Twisted Logic,” the final song (if you don't include the faux Cash country tune, "Til Kingdom Come," tacked on as a hidden track). Here, Johnny Buckland's guitar becomes jaggedly majestic, taking on all comers, going out like Tony Montana in a six-string firestorm.

The best moments of "X&Y" remind me why I fell for this band 7 years ago and I trust that Eno will do for them what he did for U2 following that group's similar "Rattle and Hum" debacle. Promisingly, the band states that this next album will be a disciplined 42 minutes and, they declare, "As you'd expect with Brian Eno, there's experimentation and exploration. But the music still has integrity. It's real and honest. There's no posturing or bombast."

P.S. Photo of Coldplay in Barcelona courtesy of Fibrcool over at Flickr's Creative Commons area.

"I'm Not Here": A Dylan jigsaw puzzle

The most conventional aspect of "I'm Not Here," Todd Haynes's cubist biopic of Bob Dylan, is that the iconic songwriter is portrayed by 6 different actors, including Cate Blanchett and African-American child actor Marcus Carl Franklin. After that it gets really far out. The kid version of Dylan gets swallowed by a whale that's swum straight out of Melville's pages; the older, "John Wesley Harding" era Dylan lives as an outlaw in his own Western wherein horses roam alongside a giraffe; and the mid-’60s Dylan, imposterishly played by Blanchett with a tangled bouquet of hair and cheekbone shadows even darker than Dylan’s hideaway sunglasses, floats up into the sky as dangerously as the key tethered to Ben Franklin’s kite. All of which is to say that “I’m Not There” is a visually astonishing film.

The point of it all? To convey the idea that Dylan, portrayed here mostly as a self-centered snot, had to keep reinventing himself because he wearied of the pidgeonholing and expectation and labeling thrust upon him. Though his music became the rallying cry of counterculture discontent, he was uncomfortable with the mantle of folk-music messiah. He was the anti-Bono.

That's still as true today as it was then. Whenever Dylan does something blatantly commercial, such as appearing in a Victoria's Secret ad or hawking his music in a car ad, commentators get into a snit about how he's sold out to The Man in a betrayal of '60s ideals. (The man has been called Judas more than a few times.) A more striking example of how others expect the man formerly known as Robert Zimmerman to conform to a certain ideal emerges from the following exchange between hippie-spirited Jann S. Wenner, publisher of Rolling Stone, and Dylan in an RS interview earlier this year:

Wenner: What do you think of the historical moment we’re in today? We seem to be hellbent on destruction. Do you worry about global warming?

Dylan: Where’s the global warming? It’s freezing here.

Wenner: It seems a pretty frightening outlook.

Dylan: I think what you’re driving at, though, is we expect politicians to solve all our problems. I don’t expect politicians to solve anybody’s problems.

Wenner: Who is going to solve them?

Dylan: Our own selves. We’ve got to take the world by the horns and solve our own problems. The world owes us nothing, each and every one of us, the world owes us not one single thing. Politicans or whoever.

As prickly and mumbly and obtuse as Bob can be, he does open up eloquently on "No Direction Home," the comprehensive Martin Scorcese directed documentary on Dylan, which is a great companion piece to "I'm Not There."

In "I'm Not There," some of Dylan’s greatest songs, including “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “Simple Twist of Fate,” get their own appropriate montages. Most of the music is comprised of Dylan originals, but a few cuts from the stellar accompanying soundtrack of interpretations by 30 or so artists are included, too. The best of these appears in the Western sequence (featuring Richard Gere as Dylan) when My Morning Jacket’s Jim James stands in a town-square gazebo and sings “Goin' to Acapulco.”

The movie’s website has a nifty feature: You can send someone a message inscribed on the “Subterranean Homesick Blues” cue cards as flipped through by Dylan.

P.S. That appropo photo courtesy of Geeenta's photos on Flickr in the creative commons area.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Kate Bush's sensual world

She's my favorite female singer but, alas, Kate Bush is about as prolific as Harper Lee. So any new material by her is an event unto itself. Released Dec. 8, the song "Lyra" was written for the end-credits of "The Golden Compass." Though the song is neither musically complex nor melodically compelling, Kate makes it sound as intimate as a confession in an empty cathedral. Lovely. You can hear its radio debut on BBC Radio 6 by going here, and ffwd-ing to 44 minutes and 22 seconds in to the show.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Great remix of Radiohead's version of Björk's "Unravel," which Thom Yorke once named his favorite song, here.

(If you haven't already heard these two singers duet on "I've Seen It All" from Björk's "Dancer in the Dark" soundtrack, go here.)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Led Zep(again)

I have been so engrossed in watching and listening to the re-released version of Led Zeppelin's "The Song Remains The Same" over the past few weeks that I've not even listened to my review copy of "Mothership." I'd assumed that the mixes were exactly the same as the 1990 Remasters. After reading this fascinating article in The Times about how the songs have been overhauled yet again, I can't wait to listen to it. And if that isn't enough of a recommendation, here's Dave Grohl's take on it.

The reissue of "The Song Remains the Same" has accomplished the impossible: It has turned a once average album into a sonic delight. Prior to now it was an album I seldom listened to (apart from the occasional dip into my favorite version of "No Quarter") but I am impressed with the sound of the reissue as well as the premium-grade new tracks. I haven't done a comparison with the original, but I don't remember it having as much detail and nuance and vibrancy. It sounds like an entirely different record now.

The new additions are great. I'm not a fan of most live versions of "Over the Hills and Far Away" because of the way that Robert Plant sings the chorus in a different key from the original but, that said, Jimmy Page's guitar solo will tie air guitarists' fingers into knots (interesting to compare this improvized solo with the different, shorter, one from another night that appears in the movie). "Since I've Been Loving You," which is on the DVD, is an incredible version – one of the best Zep performances ever. And "The Ocean," with a riff that could split the atom, even surpasses the studio recording in terms of swagger and sheer manic nirvana. Fantastic fluid solo by Jimmy in "Heartbreaker," too.