TV

House

Hugh Laurie's outstandingly charismatic Dr. Greg House doth bestride the increasingly narrow-minded world of network television like a contemporary Colossus.


House

Airtime: Tuesdays, 9pm ET
Cast: Hugh Laurie, Lisa Edelstein, Robert Sean Leonard, Omar Epps, Jesse Spencer, Jennifer Morrison
MPAA rating: N/A
Subtitle: Season Four Premiere
Network: Fox
US release date: 2007-09-25
Website
Trailer
Amazon
Chance has put in our way a most singular and whimsical problem, and its solution is its own reward.

-- Sherlock Holmes, "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle"

He's back. After a summer of reruns and reality shows, I can't tell you how glad I am to welcome House back into my life. Hugh Laurie's outstandingly charismatic Dr. Greg House doth bestride the increasingly narrow-minded world of network television like a contemporary Colossus.

This even though last season's House was frequently disappointing. The extended pursuit and persecution of House by Detective Tritter (David Morse), for example, took much more from the show than it gave. Morse did raise the larger issue confronting the series, however. House and Laurie combined tend to overwhelm lesser figures. Throughout the third season, this began to wreak havoc with the already decaying orbits of House's ineffectual and younger-skewing satellites: Foreman (Omar Epps), Cameron (Jennifer Morrison), and Chase (Jesse Spencer).

Last season, it looked like the show had finally written off its George, Izzy, and Meh: Foreman resigned because he worried about "turning into" House. Chase was fired for having limp hair and being boring. And the unfathomably arbitrary Cameron submitted a last-minute resignation simply because it was a neat thing to do in a finale. It was a shock, in a way, to see the cast so comprehensively slashed and burned, but it also boded well.

Thus the return of all three actors to the cast list for Season Four feels like a betrayal. And since at least two of them appear now to have bigger and better jobs at the Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, it may be that the writers are still trying to turn House into Grey's. But House doesn't need that sort of cookie-cutter structuring. (Rumour has it, incidentally, that the third "duckling" will be back just as soon as he's fired from Seattle Grace.)

My life is spent in one long effort to escape from the commonplace of existence.

-- Sherlock Holmes, "The Red-Headed League"

The Season Four premiere is called "Alone." It opens with House rocking out in his office with a new guitar. This isn't just important because it's another device that links House to Sherlock Holmes, who played rhythm for Baker Street Irregulars; it's also a reference to the third season finale when Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) explained how couldn't handle change, using his 30-year-old guitar as an example. So here House stands, vintage cream Gibson flying V in his hands, tripping lightly through early Led Zeppelin walking blues and a set of Eddie Van Halen double-handed arpeggios while Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) tries to sell him on Megan, the only survivor of the collapse of an office building, with symptoms interesting enough for the great medical detective.

House: "I can't take the case, I don't have a team."

Cuddy: "So hire a team."

House: "What for? I don't have a case."

Cuddy: "Have you even interviewed anybody?"

House: "You test drive a car before you buy it. You have sex before you get married. I can't hire a team based on a 10-minute interview. What if I don't like having sex with them?"

In response to Cuddy's threat to put him on bandage-changing duties if he doesn't take the case, House counter-offers that if he completes the diagnosis within the day, with no team, then Cuddy must agree to leave him alone with his guitar for a week. The game, my friends, is afoot.

My mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation.

-- Sherlock Holmes, "The Sign of Four"

The comparisons between House and Holmes are inescapable. How many times have we seen House diagnose a patient's entire history from just a glance across an examination room? And what is House's Vicodin if not an answer to the detective's cocaine? Holmes, as was perhaps typical of his time, called even his best friend by his last name. House calls everyone by their last names. While I struggle to place the fussily provocative Cuddy within the Holmes canon (unless she's Lestrade), it's self-evident that Wilson is House's Watson. Though Wilson has only roomed temporarily with House and is certainly no amanuensis, he is clearly the most important commentator on his friend's behaviour and character.

Despite House's protestations, Wilson believes he cannot function without a team, and resorts to drastic and amusing measures to force his friend to hire one. The eventual resolution of the Mystery of Megan combines with Wilson's efforts to persuade House that his friends are right: he cannot make bricks without clay. House being House, he turns the interview process into something akin to a reality show.

The second episode of the season sees House confront a lecture theatre full of job applicants, each sporting a numbered runner's bib, willing participants in an outlandish selection process. At one moment, House encourages the 40 candidates to answer a question, assuring them that he won't fire them just for getting it wrong. A doctor hazards a guess, and is immediately "fired." A few minutes later, he fires the entire back row for no reason at all, but then rescinds his decision when he realises that a particularly hot lady doctor was on that row, and fires the next to last row instead.

The selection process is expected to last eight weeks, and we can expect to see plenty of numbers 13 (Olivia Wilde), 6 (Kal Penn), 26 (Carmen Argenziano as a man with a secret), 39 (Peter Jacobson playing Steve Carrell doing a plastic surgeon), and 24 (Anne Dudek as a Cameron who's read Il Principe and knows exactly where to stick a knife). My money's on Number 24 taking out the original Cameron before the fourth episode, but that may just be wishful thinking.

While House, Cuddy, and Wilson are as sharp as ever, the new breed are already more fun than the ducklings ever were. I'm glad he's back. My only concerns are that Number 18, the token black Mormon, will be fired too quickly, and that keeping Epps, Spencer, and Morrison reeks of creative cowardice. Remember that the strongest character in Grey's, the one who got her own spin-off, was Addison, not a "youthful" intern.

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

Next Page
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image