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Sunday, Feb 18, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Stiff Records—the original indie label that launched the careers of Elvis Costello, Madness and Shane MacGowan—re-releases six classic albums on April 3 2007.


Wreckless Eric—Big Smash

…features his classic single, “Whole Wide World” as featured in the latest Will Ferrell movie Stranger Than Fiction – “the gem of the collection” according to the New York Times.  Eric Goulden has just returned from an extensive US tour and this double CD compiles the best moments from his albums, Wreckless Eric and the Wonderful World of Wreckless Eric, both released in 1978.  Big Smash also includes rare tracks, B-sides, imports and a new, off-the-wall commentary from the man himself.

Preview songs from this album 


Tracey Ullman—You Broke My Heart In Seventeen Places

This is the first ever CD release for Tracey’s debut album, which originally sold over 150,000 copies back in the early ‘80s.  With hits like “Breakaway” and “Move Over Darling”, Tracy built a major pop career in the UK before moving to the US and HBO to build an equally major TV career.  This album has always been sought after by Kirsty MacColl fans, for her contributions that are evident throughout, not least on Tracey’s cover of MacColl’s classic “They Don’t Know”.  Includes four bonus tracks and new sleeve notes.

Preview songs from this album 


Rachel Sweet—Fool Around

The one they call the original Joss Stone, Rachel was 16 when she recorded her debut album of belting R&B for Stiff in 1978.  Here it finally is on CD with bonus tracks and deluxe packaging.  Rachel had been discovered on a Stiff trade mission to the thriving alternative music scene of Akron, Ohio, that lead to her first release for the label—a contribution to an Akron compilation that also featured Jane Aire, the Waitresses and the Bizarros—that was packaged in a scratch ’n’ sniff sleeve!  Like Tracey Ullman, Rachel moved into US TV but as a writer/producer working on—amongst others—Dharma & Greg and Seinfeld.

Preview songs from this album 


Dirty Looks—The Complete Stiff Years

This double CD compilation centres around Stiff’s biggest ever album release in the US—the self-titled debut from the Staten Island-based power pop trio that sold over 100,000 copies in 1980.  This three-piece came across like a feisty version of XTC playing, as they often did, CBGBs in the US and alongside fellow Stiff proto-punks Any Trouble and Tenpole Tudor in the UK.  Disc One is largely produced by Tim Friese-Green (Talk Talk) and Disc Two—centring around their second album, Turn It Up—is produced by the Motors’ Nick Garvey.  This deluxe package features 13 tracks available on CD for the first time, plus singles, B-sides and live tracks.

Preview songs from this album 


Any Trouble—Where Are All the Nice Girls?

A regular fixture in Nancy Griffith’s touring band, Clive Gregson is also often found performing as part of a trio with Eddie Reader and the Bible’s Boo Hewerdine. But it’s his early work on Stiff with Any Trouble that’s the stuff of legend. Like a looser, more upbeat version of Elvis Costello and the Attractions, this is a long awaiting CD issue for Any Trouble’s debut album, which originally appeared in 1980.  At that time Melody Maker declared it “recommended by this paper with an enthusiasm that probably left the group red at the neck with flustered embarrassment.”  More recently they’ve been described by Mojo as “a fine body of men… what fine songs too… gems from Clive Gregson’s formative years. Wonderful on vinyl, wonderful on CD.”

Preview songs from this album


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Sunday, Feb 18, 2007

It might be useful to contrast Bataille’s vision of potlatch expenditure, of competitive destructive waste, with the “gift economy,” production by technology-assisted volunteers rather than paid labor—open-source projects, shared amateur entertainment, Wikipedia, etc. Justin Fox has an article in Time about this phenomenon, pondering what sort of alternative it presents to capitalism’s assumptions of rational self-interest. We assume that people behave rationally by getting paid what they are worth—by making every marginal unit of effort or expenditure yield the most additional utility, however we construe that. Bataille seemed to want to imagine an escape from the prison of rational calculation with behavior so destructive it could yield no such utility, but utility can ultimately be rehabilitated to capture that desire to escape from it. As Jameson notes in Postmodernism, the idea of the market (“Leviathan in sheep’s clothing”) exerts a totalizing force, with economists such as Gary Becker explaining how any possible desire, conscious or unconscious, can be configured to conform to production functions—mathematical models of inputs and outcomes—and thus be rendered rational. Jameson sees this as a desperate attempt to salvage the promises of freedom and equality capitalism rests on but never can deliver. In his view, spontaneous order is an expression of despair at how individuals are never really free in the sense of being able to intervene in their destiny, which remains governed by motives dispersed throughout the system and directed by no one. Instead “cynical reason” (Peter Sloterdijk’s term for “enlightened false consciousness”) in the form of semi-ironic consumerism reigns as the only freedom we know, and we accept it as compensatory.


But does the gift economy, productive volunteerism, do anything to disturb that analysis? Is there an alternative form of freedom from market rationality in working hours for free on a Linux patch or in distributing your fan fiction online? Or has the compensation changed from money to attention or recognition. (if this is true, what does it say about the devaluation of money, which can no longer secure a fundamental human need such as community recognition?) Fox talks to Yoachi Benkler, author of The Wealth of Networks, who posits a sweet spot between exploitation and cooperation whereby corporations can capitalize on this outpouring of volunteer labor: “The key, Benkler says, is ‘managing the marriage of money and nonmoney without making nonmoney feel like a sucker.’ ” His view is opposed by Nicholas Carr, who argues the market will eventually co-opt volunteer labor by learning how to value it and price it. It seems like work being done for free is either being subsidized elsewhere (as perhaps with Benkler’s book; he’s a Yale professor and may have been paid by the university to research and write the book) or is pleasurable in its own right, the way most work is markedly not—we do it on our own time, with our own goals in mind and via methods we’ve improvised that make us feel most engaged.


But does the gift economy recuperate Bataille’s notion of expenditure—does it serve as a refutation that any act can truly be nonproductive? Also, does it refute the strange notion that true freedom is incompatible with production, that it must consist in some free play that yields only abjection? It seems more likely that people enjoy being useful but have that natural impulse perverted by a market system that insists that gratifying that impulse alone is not enough. The market encourages to suspend that impulse and pursue profitable but personally meaningless activities. Then we rescue the impulse in our private hobbies. The wealth of networks lies in bringing to account all that energy expended in hobbies without corrupting it with the taint of market-driven thinking that makes the work seem inadequate in itself.


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Sunday, Feb 18, 2007

Sad to say, even in 2007, it’s still difficult to have a frank discussion about race.  It’s obviously still an important and volatile issue but it’s also very touchy for many people so rather than dealing with the complex issues involved, it usually gets brushed away.  When someone does bring it up, all kinds of recriminations and accusations and finger-pointing follow it. All of that hardens the impression that it’s best to not talk about these things seriously, instead smoothing over things with platitudes or sweeping everything under the rug and pretending it’s not there.  What got me thinking about this recently was an NME article noting that the band TV on the Radio lashed out at the Village Voice for their Pazz and Jop cover cartoon where Bob Dylan rides a mower over an African-American band member (which looks a lot like singer/guitarist Kyp Malone).  So is this a legitimate case of racism?


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Sunday, Feb 18, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Metric - Empty
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Metric - Poster of a Girl
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Metric - Patriarch on Vespa
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Metric - Handshakes
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Metric - Police and the Private
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Metric - Monster Hospital
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Saturday, Feb 17, 2007


Coy “Cannonball” Buckman is an ex-stock car champion with a very shady past. Wrongfully incarcerated for the death of a young woman during a race, he’s recently been released from prison and is looking to reclaim his good name. Along with his best friend Zippo, Cannonball decides to compete in the highly illegal, underground car rally known as the Trans-American Outlaw Road Race. But he faces stiff competition for the $100,000 first prize. There is country singer Perman Waters, who hopes to use the contest as a way of publicizing his career. There is Wolfe Messer, a German Grand Prix driver who hopes to show up the Americans with his souped-up European automobile. Jim and Maryann are two surfers who hope to win the cash so that they can buy a beach house in Hawaii. And Sandy Harris has brought two of her waitress friends along for the get-rich-quick ride.


Even though Cannonball is the favorite to win, two conflicting elements conspire to keep the bold Buckman down. One is longtime nemesis Cade Redman, who wants Cannonball out of the race…at any cost. And the other, oddly enough, is Coy’s brother, Benny, who’s in debt up to his cement shoes with the mafia. If Cannonball doesn’t win, the entire Buckman family stands to lose…permanently. It’s a demolition derby between good and evil, life and death, as lean, mean automotive machines traverse the highways and byways of this great land of ours, hoping to be the next bicoastal racing champion.


Like a cool breeze blowing across a summer’s evening at the local drive-in, Cannonball is pure, unadulterated B-movie magic. Part cornball chase picture, part idiosyncratic comedy, this sequel of sorts to Death Race 2000 (the same creative team is involved, though the story is markedly different) is a randy reminder of why certain staid formulas seem to always work so well. No matter the premise (illegal race across the country) or personalities involved (hard-bitten ex-cons, hillbilly hick singer), a good old-fashioned land-speed story is entertainment at its most primal.


Call it male machismo moviemaking or a well-honed tapping into of America’s love affair with the automobile, but whenever you pit vehicle against vehicle in an all-out contest to the end/prize/death/revenge, the results are resplendent. Some films have forged their entire identity on such horsepower hijinx—The Blues Brothers, The Junkman, Gone in 60 Seconds—while others have traded on the epic pavement power struggle to underline their larger point (Bullitt, The French Connection, and Ronin are good examples of this supplementary ploy). But for some reason, Cannonball careens off the top of the pleasure dome to resonate with a combination of craziness and craftiness to circumvent all possible pitfalls—not to mention plot potholes. Certainly, this is a low-rent actioner with a budget to match its less than broad scope, and you’ve probably seen better bumper-to-bumper ballistics in modern TV cop shows. But there is a special sublime quality to this high-octane oddity that really gets down deep in your merriment manifolds, producing untold RPMs of rejoicing.


It all begins in the setup. David Carradine, fresh from Kung Fu and Death Race 2000, is the washed-up, recently paroled from prison stock car champion who hides a secret sin that burdens his hardened soul. Winning this cross-country grand prix will offer him redemption and a less tarnished reputation—especially with his correctional officer girlfriend (essayed by the beautiful Veronica Hamel). Naturally, there is a mechanic sidekick—with the great name of Zippo—who idolizes and worships the very seat Dave sits on, and the black cloud of doom hovering over this wide-eyed worshiper is so thick it’s like the near-solid sludge in a frozen crankcase. Add the no-good brother (Corman main man Dick Miller, as brilliant as ever) who’s in hock up to his hemorrhoids with the mob, and the insane maniac bad guy (genre giant Bill McKinney, Deliverance, She Freak) who wants to get back at Carradine for reasons that seem more crackpot than concrete, and the basic cornerstones of car crash bedlam are in place.


But the wonderful thing that director Paul Bartel (Death Race 2000, Eating Raoul) does with his retro road race is flesh out the subplots with conspicuous eccentricities. Indeed, it is the ancillary characters, the oddballs off to the side that really sell Cannonball as something more than a low-rent Smokey and the Bandit. While there is no one here as instantly memorable as Jackie Gleason’s foul-mouthed fussbudget Buford T. Justice, Bartel still gives us the Cole Porter–obsessed Mafioso, the atonal, quasi-talented country bumpkin singer (Gerrit Graham), the self-righteous Euro-trash champion (James Keach) and dozens of delightful cameos. Indeed, throughout the course of Cannonball, be on the lookout for such AIP stalwarts as Martin Scorsese, Sylvester Stallone, Joe Dante, Don Simpson, Mary Woronov, and the low-budget legend himself, Roger Corman.


Still, for all the acting chops and prickly personalities therein, a film like Cannonball is really a director’s medium. How well you respond to its road rage comes in direct proportion to how successful Bartel is in anchoring the action. Thankfully, the man’s skill with a camera is considerable, and while you’ve probably seen better highway histrionics in big-budget stunt flicks, you’ve never experienced the high-speed chase in quite the same way as he delivers it here. Bartel enjoys positioning the camera at or near street level, accenting the feel and flow of the road beneath the wheels. He then cross-cuts to aerial shots of the vehicles in strategic circumstances, allowing the curve of the concrete or the upcoming landscape to dictate the dynamics and suspense.


Certainly, the action sequence has exploded in the nearly 30 years since Cannonball was made (the superhighway surrealism of The Matrix Reloaded‘s freeway fracas comes to mind). But as an example of nuts-and-bolts, no-CGI engine block stunt work, including a couple of absolutely incredible sequences (the gap jump and the pileup), Cannonball has a nice revved-up reality. Sure, it is an over-the-top tapestry of spark plug parameters that pushes the envelope of believability as it roars toward the finish line. But within its muscle car madness breathes a true escapist delight. And what more do you want on a sultry August evening at the neighborhood passion pit than a mindless exercise in gearbox gratuity? While it is the lesser of Bartel’s street beat ballyhoo (Death Race 2000 is just a fantastic bit of futuristic foolishness), Cannonball still delivers the appropriate axle greasing.


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