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Tuesday, Nov 13, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Carbon/Silicon —"What the Fuck"
From The Last Post on Caroline Records
     


Filled with top-notch songwriting, propulsive energy and artfully biting lyrics, The Last Post is the rollicking debut uniting punk rock icons Mick Jones (Clash, Big Audio Dynamite) and Tony James (Generation X, Sigue Sigue Sputnik). Friends since 1975, Jones and James began writing together in 2002, the same year Mick produced The Libertines’ groundbreaking debut. With the addition of Leo ‘E-zee-Kill’Williams (Big Audio Dynamite, Dreadzone) on bass and Dominic Greensmith (Reef) on drums, the band gave away a few MP3s on their website, released a few singles and started gigging around. Produced by Mick and Tony and mixed by the legendary Bill Price (Clash, Sex Pistols, Pretenders), The Last Post is a roaring, unruly and infectious return to form that will please and excite fans old and new.


The Radishes —"Good Machine"
From Good Machine
     


The Radishes are a San Francisco/Los Angeles based band with a sound that has been described as Nirvana meets Motorhead. Other influences include such high-energy units as The White Stripes, The Stooges, Ministry, The Hives, Arctic Monkeys, Scratch Acid, and NIN, with hooky, angular guitar lines, ferocious vocals, and a unique, darkly ironic approach to songwriting.


Saturday Looks Good To Me —"Make A Plan"
From Fill Up the Room on K Records
     


Saturday Looks Good To Me is the songs and experiments of Michigan-born songwriter and producer Fred Thomas. Without ever straying from the goal of making perfect pop songs, this record draws deeper into a vault of personal feelings and intimate musical expressions, taking risks and trying to be as honest as possible. All the sounds are warm and urgent, joyful and kind of nervous, like an eerie celebration that starts right after something really horrible has happened. Lush string sections and electric piano lines dance with washed-out samples and bits of tape collages. Bouncy Smiths-like guitar lines stop abruptly and give way to white album-esque melodies. Wordless voices rise up at once then fall away; everything has its place.


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Tuesday, Nov 13, 2007

The AV Club’s recent report on the worst book-to-film adaptations has led to some pretty fierce discussion at my house. Happy as we are to see The Grinch get a ribbing, we’re not so sure The Hours, Bee Season, or the remake of All the King’s Men deserve such scorn. I remember all of those as engaging, even gripping in the case of The Hours, which I watched days after finishing the novel.


Stephen King’s The Shining, however, is more out of place than most here, tossed off as “lousy”, with easy dissings of Steven Weber’s acting talents and some TV-grade special effects served up in place of genuine anti-adaptation argument. AV reports:


King never cared for Jack Nicholson’s iconic performance in the earlier film, which he felt tipped off the character’s descent into madness too plainly, but Steven Weber (a.k.a. that guy from Wings) was no one’s idea of an upgrade.


Except, of course, King himself. And anyone who’s read the book and knows Jack Torrance as an everyday family man, something Weber does far more convincingly that schticky Nicholson. The miniseries forgoes scares, true, but Kubrick’s version was hardly frightening and just as laborious. Garris’s film ran four hours, Kubrick’s felt that way.


On the whole, though, AV has it pretty much spot on. Much could be added—perhaps Re:Print will put its own list together. Any suggestions?


 


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Tuesday, Nov 13, 2007

It may be a generational thing, or a my-being-a-Luddite thing, but social networking seems to me to have less to do with being social and more to do with self-marketing. MySpace, when it started, was primarily a place to market your band; it was a means to mounting a commercial website without the HTML knowhow. Once people had personal websites, they could be drawn in with the allure of metrics, the thrill of measuring one’s reach the way a marketer would—how many hits you get, what kind of demographic you are drawing, how successful you are at getting target audiences to interact with your site, what you need to say or how much skin you have to show to attract more attention and things like that. The attention, in this realm, becomes a measurable kind of currency, whereas in the dreary real world, it’s much harder to put a number on it—you can’t really count how often someone looks at you or answers your questions or has a positive thought about the way you have designed yourself.


So social networking is about quantifying the attention we can receive and finding some solace in that; real-world attention is a severely scarce commodity, but online the number of internet users, and the effectiveness of programmed simulacrums, make it seem limitless. It also can invert the sense of scarcity—instead of their not being enough attention out there for us to attract, suddenly it’s the attention that we can give that becomes treasured and scarce, a powerful feeling and one that is continually stoked by marketers in their attempts to flatter us with the attention they pay—“Hey you—yes, you, and only you. I have something I really want to show you. See? See, I knew you would like it. I know you so well!” The internet in general caters to our craving for instant attention—it promises us the precise kind of audience we want at any time, andif that audience proves elusive, it supplies another conduit for the personal attention of last resort, advertising. If one is lonely and looking for recognition, targeted ads are better than nothing, and for the advertisers, nothing could be better than hitting someone when they are down and vulnerable.


It was only a matter of time before social networks became more explicitly about marketing, since they were already about measuring attention and influence and defining oneself as a certain sort of marketing target. This Economist article looks at the recent developments of integrating ads more smoothly with social networking sites, letting advertisers eavesdrop on the conversations among “friends” and interject themselves when it seems appropriate or lucrative. And Facebook itself will take the commercial behavior of its users—buying something, participating in some brand’s Facebook page—and try to spread them across the user’s network as a kind of advertising, mimicking word-of-mouth. It forces you to be a shill, unless you opt out, and it furthers the perception that people shop to be noticed. Shopping may inevitably be a social activity, but social networking sites are trying to make it the cornerstone of friendship. So one can share such momentous decisions as buying shoes online with friends as if were deeply significant personal news and thereby let people get to know you better—since after all, we are what we buy and spending money is the only way we can signify we’re serious about something.


Social-networking technology basically lets brands aspire to be mistaken for actual peers, things people can have relationships with, and it also encourages people not only to see themselves as brands themselves (the metrics component of social networks already encourages this) but also to monetize their personal brand and treat their friend groups as demographics to exploit—as people primarily to market to with word-of-mouth recommendations, or automatically generated web notifications. This would be depressing if the groups on the networks resembled one’s real-life circle of friends (which one presumes is built on trust rather than exploitation). But there may not be enough incentive for people to groom their networks to make them match their real ones, and the colonization of the networks by marketing reduces that incentive further. The article cites Paul Martino, a proprietor of an early social network, who argues that


the interpersonal connections (called the “social graph”) on such networks are also of low quality. Because few people dare to dump former friends or to reject unwanted friend requests from casual acquaintances, “social graphs degenerate to noise in all cases,” he says. If he is right, social-marketing campaigns will descend into visual clutter about the banal doings of increasingly random people, rather than being the next big thing in advertising.


Let’s hope he’s right.


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Tuesday, Nov 13, 2007
by Kim Barker

By Kim Barker


Chicago Tribune (MCT)


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—Abdul Qayyum Khan flipped through the TV stations, past music videos, a bike race, an Indian soap opera and a cooking show. “The same old thing,” he muttered.


Khan, who sells TV and video equipment, missed his news programs and his talk shows, the major form of entertainment in Pakistan.


When besieged President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency Nov. 3, suspending civil liberties and the constitution in Pakistan, one of his first targets was the newly independent media, which he helped create and gave unprecedented freedom. Immediately, the government knocked about 40 independent Pakistani TV stations off the air, which has added to concerns that parliamentary elections set for January may not be free and fair.


“It used to be, we’d stay up until late at night, until 3 a.m., watching talk shows and the news,” Khan said. “Now we go to sleep at 10 p.m.”


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Monday, Nov 12, 2007

1965 was a transitional year for international icons The Beatles. It would see the release of their artistic “breakthrough” album, the pot-inspired mostly acoustic gem Rubber Soul. It marked their turn from pop music phenoms into actual artists, dispensing with the cover songs and collective cutesy routine that made up the majority of their marketability. In its place was a growing sense of self, a realization that the mania began on their little British Isle was spreading, unabated, across every aspect of popular culture. And it was the year they reluctantly starred in their second feature film, Help!   Hoping to capitalize on the success of A Hard Day’s Night, director Richard Lester kept the eccentric English humor intact. Gone, however, was the carefree innocence that seemed to spark their first foray into film. In its place was a workmanship and ethic that, while winning, provided portents of careering things to come.


After receiving a ring from an adoring fan, Beatles drummer Ringo finds himself locked in a life or death struggle with the notorious Kaili worshipping cult. Seems the piece of jewelry is one of their sacred ornaments, and whoever wears it will end up a human sacrifice to their god. Trying to avoid the murderous motives of High Priest Clang and his henchman, the boys seek help from a jeweler, the employees of an Indian Restaurant, and a crazed scientist named Foot and his bumbling assistant Algernon. Unfortunately, the only person able to help is fellow cult member Ahme. She seems sweet on Paul, and wants to return the ring to its rightful owner. With the help of Scotland Yard, the band records under heavy military guard, travels to Switzerland to avoid the thugs, and winds up confronting the perplexingly persistent fanatics on the shores of the Bahamas.


It’s a shame that Help! is constantly saddled with the “second best Beatles film” moniker. When compared to the rest of their output—the maddening Magical Mystery Tour, the next to no involvement in the decent Yellow Submarine, the dark and bitter aura of Let It Be - it’s faint praise indeed. Certainly A Hard Day’s Night set a cinematic bar so high that not even the most important band in the history of modern music could compete with it, and compared to other rock and roll film showcases of the time, it’s an unbridled masterwork. But for some reason, when placed along an equally fictional version of a ‘day in their life’, The Beatles’ East Indian romp gets some substantial short shrift. Frankly, it doesn’t deserve it. Fault it all you want for being a refashioned farce (the script was originally meant for someone else) or a marijuana soaked semi-spectacle, but the film contains some of the best onscreen work the band ever accomplished. It also features some of their most astounding songs of the pre-psychedelia/Sgt. Pepper period.


Help! is actually a hard movie to hate. The Beatles may be a tad dispirited here, less hyper and more humbled by what was rapidly becoming a cultural cocoon trapping them within their own fame (the next year—1966—would mark their decision to stop touring and concentrate on writing and recording only), but they make a perfect proto-punk Marx Brothers. While Ringo is the supposed star, perhaps because of the glowing notices he received from Night, it’s actually the entire foursome that truly shines. The reconfigured screenplay gives every member a standout sequence, from Paul’s amazing adventure ‘on the floor’ to John’s constant taunting of every authority figure in the film. The main narrative still centers on the emblematic drummer with the tendency toward ostentaceous jewelry and a large neb, but the other three turn in delightfully deadpan performances as well. It helps sell the rather clumsy, crackpot concept.


Equally endearing is the superb supporting cast. Made up of many then UK luminaries, Leo McKern and Eleanor Brom are excellent as opposing sides of the killer cult. Handling the pigeon English elements of his role with class and creativity, the future Rumpole of the Bailey never registers a single false note. Brom, on the other hand, is a strange choice for a romantic lead. Dark, imposing and very focused, she is a million miles from the hippy dippy flower children that were coming to mark the midpoint of the ‘60s. Returning to the Beatles camp for a second cinematic go round, Victor Spinetti is the perfect nonsense spewing mad scientist. Along with soon to be inseparable sidekick Roy Kinnear (the two became synonymous because of their brilliant chemistry here) they literally light up the screen. The sequence where they put Ringo into a metal expanding machine is a classic of screwball science shtick. In fact, there is a wonderful balance between physical and intellectual comedy here, something that definitely differentiates Help! from Night’s more normative approach.


And then there’s the music. While different entities love to claim the title of “Originator of the Music Video”, the Beatles will always remain the format’s grandest champions. Unlike Night, which used a performance based paradigm almost exclusively to showcase the songs, Help! creates little mini musical montages that form the foundation for everything MTV would do two decades later. While the title track purposely recalls the previous film, the next number, the fabulous pop tone “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl” sets the new standard for such presentations. Playing in a dimly lit studio, their silhouettes barely visible through the fog of cigarette (?) smoke, the boys bang out one of Lennon’s best, a catchy little number with a tantalizingly tough lyrical line. Indeed, most of the songs in Help! would avoid the June/Moon/Spoon musings of their Tin Pan Alley take on rock and roll to enter into realms that are dark, confrontational, and dismissive.



With titles like “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” (a nice nod to new buddy Bob Dylan), “The Night Before” and “Another Girl”, The Beatles were proving that they’d matured, and indeed, one of the main reasons some fans don’t like this glorified goofball lark is that it posits grown men, ready to explore the mysteries both inside and outside their insular world as juvenile jokesters. Many of the gags are aimed at the lowest levels of wit, and even some of the smarter material is offset by a clear cut cartoonish ideal. Still, there are incredibly clever moments (the opening sequence where we see the boys’ fictional living quarters, the police inspector’s spot-on Ringo impression) when the group’s inherent intelligence shines through. In fact, aside from the standard action film finish which finds the gang involved in car chases and foot races, the verbal humor is on par with anything Night had to offer.


As part of the long awaited DVD presentation from Capital Records and Apple Corps, we learn about the difficulty director Richard Lester had in coming up with another Beatles project. Popularity was demanding the boys’ return to the big screen, but since another mock documentary about their career was out of the question, something slightly more surreal had to be created. On the second disc of added content (sadly, sans current input of the remaining band members) we hear stories about the infamous amount of ganja on set, the description of a disastrous sequence that didn’t make the final cut, and confirm what many at the time were already quite aware of—the Beatles were chaffing at their continued closed-off existence. It was almost impossible for them to travel anywhere—even on set—without crowds of screaming fans isolating them. It’s clear that what seemed exciting in A Hard Day’s Night was becoming more and more unbearable by Help!


This is perhaps why the film feels strained to some. The madcap mop tops who captured everyone’s hearts a year before had become slightly dampened slaves to their incalculable success. The notion that they were now international trend setters, mocked and mimicked by every group looking to ride the cresting British Invasion must have manifested itself in ways that, subconsciously, snuck onto the celluloid. It is clear that the fun loving blokes we see cascading down the Alps to the glorious sounds of John Lennon’s classic “Ticket To Ride” would soon become introspective—and independent—parts of an unique whole. They would go on to make albums that transcended the medium, offering timeless examples of composition as art. But Help! remains a wonderful testament to a time when being a Beatle was still satisfying—at least, on the cinematic surface.   



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