Jesse Eisenberg plays
Deciding to visit “a real A-listers” house in Hollywood, we are treated to one of the best cameos in recent cinema. It’s a perfect spoof of fame and celebrity – with tough-guy Tallahassee reduced to gushing tributes, and Wichita laughing at an especially unfortunate moment - "This guy, he gets me every time!"
Columbus overcomes his clown phobia, wins some respect and draws some heart-warming moral lessons to end the film. Zombieland may be short in real horror (there’s none of the claustrophobic tension of Night of the Living Dead), but with its satirical intentions all on the surface, it’s a welcome addition to the zombie canon.
If we look at album groups (acts who manage to stay together for more than three albums, let's say), there are three types of act:
1. Groups who make the same basic album over and over again. AC/DC, for example. Iron Maiden have two basic styles: heavy metal which is kinda punky or kinda proggy. Marillion never strayed far from their basic template. Morrissey has been a solo artist for three times as long as he was in The Smiths, and although he sounds more inspired at some times than others, Moz's songs remains the same. Portishead are Portishead are Portishead. The Ramones have never been anything other than The Ramones. Electronica acts like Orbital don't change much, even when they manage to string a few albums together. Boards of Canada spend years refining their albums, but it's still essentially the same kind of album. The Rolling Stones haven't done anything new since Mick Taylor left.
Groups like this - they work within the basic framework outlined in their early work. Sometimes a later album is really good, if they are challenged or emotionally adrenalised, but mostly it's their early work that gets people going, when it was freshest.
Such (successful) acts are quite rare - it's hard to do the same thing over and over with great conviction.
2. Groups who use music to articulate. These groups are the rarest. They're the real artists - who use music to express a vision, or some specific content. I'm thinking of The Beatles, the Velvet Underground, Kraftwerk, Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan. Take Pink Floyd for example - the increasing bitterness of post-Dark Side of the Moon is perfectly reflected in the aggressive guitars, in Water's dark cynical lyrics, and the sharpened song-structures. Kraftwerk, of course, constructed sound pictures on aspects of modern life, whether computers, travel, or machines. The Beatles combined form and content in astonishingly articulate, imaginative, immediate pieces that rightly make them acclaimed as the best rock group ever. (Who else could do "I Am The Walrus", "Revolution" and "Martha My Dear" in just over one year?)
These groups develop organically during their career. Often their later albums are better than their earlier ones, but not always. They know what they want to say and how to say it. They are rightly lauded as the best in their field.
3. Groups who have an idea... and that's it. This is the vast majority of groups, in my opinion. Acts who have an initial burst of inspiration, have a collection vision, who articulate something new and urgent and expressive. Maybe it's a new form altogether (c.f. Roni Size's groundbreaking drum and bass album called, ahem, New Forms), maybe it's a synthesis of two or more inspirations, maybe it's just making it faster or slower or harder or more complex or darker or whatever.
They've got an angle of some kind, some new sound - so they get popular. They can release more albums. But... whatever inspiration they had has dried up. No fault of theirs - such inspiration is a rare thing, and comes and goes with whimsical abruptness. Maybe they can refine their previous vision, but they, like most human beings, want to progress and develop. So what do they end up doing? They end up with craft, with pop. Whatever was raw, edgy, new and exciting becomes more refined, mature, professional... and dead. Rock music is by nature transgressive - it pushes at and goes beyond the boundaries (which is why the dirty sound of the electric guitar defines rock music). Rock music which stays within known boundaries is dead as dodo shit.
Take as an example Belle and Sebastian, perhaps the best Scottish group of the last twenty years. Their first albums did indeed articulate something new, something unique - poetic, literate, understated yet rich tales of failure, loss and childhood. Great stuff; some remarkable albums. But once this seam had been mined, they turned to Trevor Horn, who gave them a professional sheen, a more confident sound... and lost what had been so special about them in the first place. The group playing "The Boys Are Back In Town" (!!!) from their Live At The BBC album is a confident, professional rock band, with nothing unique about them at all. All the rough edges has been smoothed out, and all their character.
Or, from another angle, The Stranglers. A savagely aggressive pub rock band gets all mature and produces songs like "La Folie" and "Golden Brown". Mike Oldfield - a distinct musical vision, as seen in Tubular Bells, is gradually diminished and diluted album by album (even his side-length later pieces like "Crises" are visionless, crafted pieces), leading to pop tunes like "Moonlight Shadow" and "Family Man". Nice and all, but... Public Image Ltd, meanwhile, show one of the clearest bifurcations between early abrasion and dissonance, and later poppy-hooky tunes:
REM, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Tricky, Roxy Music, Moby, U2, Metallica (who as they can't go pop instead cannibalise themselves - anyone telling you Death Magnetic is a "return to form" is deluding themselves), Oasis, Gang of Four, Hebie Hancock, Manic Street Preachers (a classic case), Pearl Jam, Madness (who actually did it rather well), Stevie Wonder, Animal Collective, Add N To (X), New Order, Blondie, Black Sabbath, Genesis, The Buzzcocks - it happened to all of them. Sometimes they may even do it well, as I've suggested with Madness; Animal Collective are certainly having more success than ever. But whatever was new, unique and glorious... it's gone.
To continually create (not to produce) is the hardest task in any artform. That we have groups of the calibre of the ones I listed at #2 is a minor miracle in itself. Go listen!
Man-flu. It's a pisser.
How long will it take for Americans to get some gun control? The unholy list of atrocites grows longer and longer and longer. But when some nutjobs go to public meetings (on healthcare, no less!) with guns visibly strapped to their ankles because they can, you have to fear that America is condemned to further such incidents. And it's the lack of suprise that's the worst thing about it.
However I'm pleased to say that I am now writing for the good people of Tianjin Plus and its sister magazine, Business Tianjin, as their Contributing Editor. No doubt this here blog will have less updates than before, but I'll see how it goes.
Just when you thought PAEDO DANGER couldn't get any worse: now visits by schoolchildren to pensioners are having to close down because of the need for vetting.
From the Daily Telegraph:
Mark Lewis, responsible for community work at Millfield School, said home visits had been abandoned after they were advised the elderly and the pupils would have to be checked.
Another cup of milk of human kindness turns sour. Another valuable tradition ruined by petty bureaucracy and priggish do-gooding.
Although Obnoxio The Clown is running on the point that both pensioners and children would have to be vetted, he obviously didn't read to the end of the story, where it quotes a DCFS spokesman saying, “Unless there were special circumstances, such as the elderly person being particularly vulnerable or if the volunteering included some form of caring on a frequent or intensive basis, these informal arrangements won't be covered by the vetting and barring scheme. No CRB check will therefore be needed.”
Which doesn't make a great deal of difference, ultimately. But, hey! At least the kids are safe, from... eh... you know...