Music

Pleased to Meet 'Em: The Replacements' Sire Years

The Replacements circa 1988 (Photo by Ebet Roberts)

Rhino reissues the second half of the Replacements' discography, from the mid-'80s masterpiece Tim to their laid-back 1990 swan song, All Shook Down.


The Replacements

Tim

Subtitle: Expanded
Label: Rhino
First date: 1985
US Release Date: 2008-09-23
UK Release Date: 2008-10-06
Amazon
iTunes

The Replacements

Pleased to Meet Me

Subtitle: Expanded
Contributors: alex chilton, jim dickinson
Label: Rhino
First date: 1987
US Release Date: 2008-09-23
UK Release Date: 2008-10-06
Amazon
iTunes

The Replacements

Don't Tell a Soul

Subtitle: Expanded
Label: Rhino
First date: 1989
US Release Date: 2008-09-23
UK Release Date: 2008-10-06
Amazon
iTunes

The Replacements

All Shook Down

Subtitle: Expanded
Label: Rhino
First date: 1990
US Release Date: 2008-09-23
UK Release Date: 2008-10-06
Amazon
iTunes

Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen, to the Replacements reissue campaign. Back in April, Rhino served up the first half of the band's discography, offering remastered and expanded versions of the three LPs and one EP the 'Mats released during their 1981-84 stint on the Twin/Tone label. Zeth Lundy chronicled that half of the group's career in his PopMatters piece, "Anyone Can Play Guitar". Though borrowed from a Radiohead song, that title perfectly encapsulates the original quintessence of the Replacements, who began as a sloppy, substance-abusing, Midwest hardcore punk band. By the time of their final Twin/Tone album, 1984's Let It Be, they had honed their chops considerably, slowed their tempos occasionally, and had begun tapping into leader Paul Westerberg's prodigious melodic gifts. This mercurial interaction of raw elements and increased focus made Let It Be the masterpiece of the hardcore era's end, as well as the ideal calling card for attracting major labels.

This is where the second half of Rhino's reissue series picks up. In 1985, the Replacements released their fourth album and debut for Sire, Tim. Despite its attachment to parent group WEA, Sire had earned its cool cred by offering a home to the likes the Ramones and Talking Heads. By the mid-'80s, however, it also had a superstar in Madonna, so Sire was not without the ability to rocket its artists to a level of fame beyond hipster renown.

The excellent Tim did nothing to diminish the Replacements' standing as a beloved underground act and hardly earned the band overnight stardom (it peaked at #183 on the Billboard 200). Produced in a straight-ahead, no-frills fashion by Tommy Erdelyi (aka Tommy Ramone), the record retains all of the buzzing energy of the group's earlier work, while adding a nice dose of punch to the rhythm section of bassist Tommy Stinson and drummer Chris Mars. Tim is cleaner sounding than Let It Be, but that's mostly to do with the band's evolution from unbridled punks to practiced veterans. Westerberg's maturity as a songwriting also demanded cleaner performances. Tunes like the tight and poppy "Kiss Me on the Bus", snarky honky-tonker "Waitress in the Sky", and the delicate, reflective "Swingin Party" are all expertly crafted and deserving of inclusion in modern rock songbooks. If the Replacements had stampeded through these numbers in some dodgy recording studio, that would have been a crime.

Fortunately, everything aligned such that the songs that deserved close attention and care received just that, while the album's looser and more rockin' numbers were given room to roam. "Bastards of Young" opens with a big, skronky riff and an unhinged howl before settling into a bluesy rocker the Rolling Stones would've been proud to have birthed. "I'll Buy" takes '50s rock 'n' roll to a punk bar and gets it hammered. "Dose of Thunder", meanwhile, is unadulterated hard rock. It's the lone throwaway track on Tim, but its positioning between "Kiss Me on the Bus" and "Waitress in the Sky" provides a nice shot of mindless adrenaline. The only minor detractor on the album is "Lay It Down Clown", a brisk yet sour-toned tune buried at track eight. The trio that concludes the record, however, is superb. "Left of the Dial" inspired an entire box set devoted to underground favorites of the '80s, while the mid-tempo "Little Mascara" rings out like a Springsteen anthem, but it's tempered by a beautifully bruised uncertainty. The lovely "Here Comes a Regular", which is built mostly on strummed acoustic guitars and Westerberg's plaintive vocals, is the perfect comedown closer.

Sadly, Tim was the final album to feature all four of the original Replacements. After that record's tour, lead guitarist Bob Stinson was fired. His life had become too much of a mess for the rest of the band. So, it was as a trio that they recorded 1987's Pleased to Meet Me. Jim Dickinson, who'd produced Big Star's Third/Sister Lovers, helmed the recordings. Unfortunately, he employed the standard treatments of the time: heavy reverb and a monster snare drum sound. Beneath this murk and behind the big beat, however, lurks a batch of songs which equals Tim's in writing and execution.

Appropriately, Big Star's leader is paid tribute on "Alex Chilton", a catchy, tight-riffing, and lyrically hyperbolic ditty in which Westerberg declares, "Children by the millions sing for Alex Chilton." (Ah, if it only that were true!) That song, and many others on the album, are more carefully executed than the Replacements of past efforts, but the boys still bashed out some fuzzy rockers, too. Opener "I.O.U." marries sludgy, bluesy guitar to Westerberg's raspy barks and shouts, while "The Ledge" seethes with brooding post-punk intensity. The group were also expanding their palette considerably. "Nightclub Jitters" is slow and loungey and features a sax solo. Horns also punctuate the boozy call-and-response verses of "I Don't Know" as well as the toe-tapping, sunny, and melodious album closer, "Can't Hardly Wait". The record's token acoustic ballad, "Skyway", is perhaps the Replacements' most beautiful tune. Truly, all of the songs on Pleased to Meet Me are great in their own way. The LP gave a small bump to the band's profile, but only enough to earn them a #131 spot on Billboard.

The Replacements - The Ledge

Their commercial breakthrough would come two years later, with the considerably mellower Don't Tell a Soul, the first to feature new lead guitarist Slim Dunlap. Cloaked in an even heavier layer of reverb and with still more emphasis on the big drum sound that dominated the day, the album possesses a velvety smooth continuity that offers little room for the surges in dynamics and peaks of naked expression that had won the band all its early fans. There's no way around it: Don't Tell a Soul is the Replacements' worst album. That said, it's far from an embarrassment, as it contains a handful of gems. "We'll Inherit the Earth", despite being sonically flattened by Matt Wallace's steamroller production, is a great big anthem at its heart.

The songs that work here bare simpler arrangements. The country-tinged "Achin' to Be" and jangly opening cut "Talent Show" fare much better than revved-up rockers like "Back to Back" or "Anywhere's Better Than Here", each of which sounds strangled. The majority of the material, though, consists of mid-tempo tracks that fit in reasonably well with the leaden production values. "I'll Be You" actually made it to #51 on the Billboard Hot 100 and went all the way to #1 on the Modern Rock charts. Toward the end of the LP, the boogie-woogie of "I Won't" is a fun boost of energy. With its cheesy synth washes, though, penultimate track "Rock 'n' Roll Ghost" is maybe the 'Mats biggest misfire ever. The band rally, however, with the final number "Darlin' One", which aches with the kind of passion missing from most of the record, restoring a sense of good will to listeners as Don't Tell a Soul comes to a close. Despite its drawbacks, the album reached #57 on the Billboard 200.

The Replacements - Achin' to Be

One year later, the Replacements rebounded from the sonically disappointing Don't Tell a Soul with 1990's All Shook Down. Scott Litt, who'd produced R.E.M., managed the sessions, capturing a clear, crisp sound from the band. At this point, though, Tommy Stinson and Mars primarily served as backing musicians for Westerberg. Much of the album is founded on laid-back acoustic guitar numbers. This is philosophically disappointing and nowhere near as exciting as the band's mid-'80s heyday. On the other hand, it's hard to be too discouraged when the songwriting is this good. Even the nearly diaphanous "Sadly Beautiful" is bewitchingly...well, let's call it melancholy and pretty, since Westerberg already cut so neatly to the chase. Although that's the slowest and sparest song on the record, few of All Shook Down's tracks are exactly barnburners.

The majority of the songs are easy-going, full of strummy delights and poignant dips into minor changes. The record's biggest problem is a lack of distinction between some of these cuts. "When It Began" and "Nobody" bleed together, as do "Someone Take the Wheel" and "Happy Town". With careful listens, you can learn to love each of these for what it offers, but they are otherwise like pairs of identical twins you pass on the street. More distinct is the quiet title track, with its weirdly delightful recorder melody in the chorus. Leadoff track "Merry Go Round", too, is instantly appealing and memorable, as its follow-up, "One Wink at a Time", which offers another dose of the horns that ameliorated Pleased to Meet Me. In general, though, there's no mistaking All Shook Down for the earlier work of the Replacements. It's not at all surprising that the group went its separate ways the following year. Mars didn't even make it as far as the final tour.

The Replacements - Merry Go Round

So, they didn't exactly go out with a bang, but nor did they whimper. The mellow All Shook Down proved a classy final album for a group that, ten years earlier, was happy to have no class at all. In the middle of that decade-long stretch, they made two of the finest albums the 1980s have to offer. From this current batch of reissues, Tim is mandatory listening and Pleased to Meet Me comes darn close. Whether or not they're worth shelling out the bucks for these reissues is debatable. The sound quality isn't significantly improved. But, hey, this is the Replacements we're talking about. Audiophiles be damned. Each of these CDs boasts a great deal more music than the old pressings, but only to the hardcore does "more" generally translate into "better", as far as bonus tracks are concerned. Does a studio demo take of "Kiss Me on the Bus" actually improve Tim? No, of course not. Still, it's interesting to hear. Once. And then forget about. The same is true for the alternative version of "Alex Chilton", which includes a false start. Is anyone surprised that the Replacements needed a few run-throughs before they captured a keeper take?

As for unique non-LP tracks, fans and rock purists forgive me for saying that their rendition of "Route 66" isn't as interesting or as good as Depeche Mode's. No, the greatest work Rhino's reissues could accomplish would be to win over a new generation of Replacements listeners. Between the end of the punk/new wave era in the early '80s and the beginning of the alternative years in the early '90s, the Replacements were among the few vital American bands making great records. Albums such as these are always worth revisiting.

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Music

The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans


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59. Everything Everything - A Fever Dream (RCA)

Everything Everything is a band of impossible ambition, apparent from even the name. Merely everything is not enough for this prog-pop quartet and frankly, the world may not be ready to oblige. "I want this planet, and I want it now / to beat like an anvil 'til the poison's out" begins "Desire", one of the album's early gut-punches. If these were times of hope and prosperity, maybe egos this size would be celebrated. But we've made that mistake before. Hovering in our minds is the expectation that we must repent for generations of excess with modesty, conservation, quiet introspection. A Fever Dream embodies none of this. It reeks of English imperialism and mulish masculinity. It's bombastic beyond belief, and it's exactly what we need.

Everything Everything's fourth record is its most personal and urgent yet. The lyrics seem to be a document for primary songwriter Jonathan Higgs' psychological condition, and it's a troubling one, to say the least. He wears his insecurities like armor, and his pride gleams like Excalibur. Enshrouding his big plans for this world gone mad are doubt and defeatism and a predisposition for hedonism. It's the battle of Jonathan vs. the world, but also of the world vs. the world, and of Jonathan vs. Jonathan. For us sons and daughters of the microprocessor, a mere trip to the grocer's forces us to contend with the unruly exponential growth of this absurdist empire—our neighborhoods and international networks, ids and egos are in constant need of rewiring

That concluding track of A Fever Dream rides out with the mantra: "Never tell me that we can't go further." The title of this track is "White Whale"—that impossible desire perpetually just out of reach. Whether for peace on earth or a little peace of mind, the struggle to satisfy it can lead only to insanity or death. But Everything Everything would never strive for anything less. - A. Noah Harrison



58. Do Make Say Think – Stubborn Persistent Illusions (Constellation)

Sometimes you don't know what you've got until it's gone and other times you don't realize it until it returns. Following an eight-year hiatus since Other Truths, Do Make Say Think's previous album, Stubborn Persistent Illusions is the boldest, most arresting progression of songs that the Toronto unit have crafted since Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn in 2003. Among the swells and cries of their heavier-hearted Constellation label mates such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor and the Silver Mt. Zion permutations, Do Make Say Think always set themselves apart by keeping spry and limber. The band was, and remains, a kind of compact jazz orchestra in rock band's clothing. Not a moment is wasted even in the record's tranquil stretches. This is fitting for an album whose concept comes from something as deep yet fleeting as an "image in a Buddhist poem about working with a wild mind." - Ian King



57. The Dream Syndicate – How Did I Find Myself Here? (Anti-)

Thirty years on from their last studio album, 1988's Ghost Stories, Steve Wynn has reconvened the Dream Syndicate to release what is arguably the band's best record ever. Yes, Days of Wine & Roses will always remain a touchstone for longtime fans, its surprises still fresh after decades, but How Did I Find Myself Here? distills every lesson Wynn had learned over a long and adventurous career into a coherent eight-song set that finds his band confident and playful in equal measure, amped up and in sync. Here, Wynn is joined by longtime drummer Dennis Duck and bassist Mark Walton and, as he has since the Dream Syndicate's 2012 reformation as a touring unit, Jason Victor (Wynn's longtime partner in Miracle 3) has replaced Paul Cutler on guitar. Further, Kendra Smith's surprising and welcome return on album closer "Kendra's Dream" evaporates time to connect past and future in a perfect psychedelic drift. It all adds up to a triumphant and fitting capstone for the legendary band.



56. Lee Ann Womack - The Lonely, the Lonesome, & the Gone (ATO)

Lee Ann Womack recorded The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone in Houston, not far from the small town where she grew up. The album is rich with a mythical Texas in the best possible ways. Womack sings with a twang and gets sentimentally soppy or wickedly mean as the songs suggest. She goes to the extremes one would expect of a Lone Star musician. It may not be the biggest state geographically, but Texans have always done things bigger. Like her fellow state-mate George Jones, whose gospel "Take the Devil Out of Me" she covers, she's pure country, meaning she probably won't be played on country radio these days. Womack wrote half of the songs here, and redoes classic material associated with Patsy Cline, Lefty Frizzell, and Johnny Cash. She covers them with a style that shows her respect for past masters and still manages to make their songs her own. - Steve Horowitz



55. Charly Bliss - Guppy (Barsuk)

On the first track of Charly Bliss' debut album Guppy, the pop-rock band, led by potent vocalist Eva Hendricks, makes a bold declaration of self. On "Percolator", Hendricks defines her artistic self and if that definition includes some uncertainty and some conflict, so much the better as Hendricks's confidence bursts forth in accepting all those elements. The rest of the album, a joyous bash of guitars and energy, pounds through related but non-repetitive territory. Hendricks takes on relationships, abuse, and harassment (and more), vocalizing complex feelings and ideas that need to be heard. She shifts quickly from anger to humor to questioning without breaking stride. The band and its sound of eating candy in the garage delivers catchy melodies and bright sounds that matches the sense of seeking and realization throughout the album. Guppy looks for sense in a demanding world while retaining a strong center, keeping a strong self-assurance in the face of various challenges. - Justin Cober-Lake



54. Tyler, the Creator - Flower Boy (Columbia)

After baiting the media with controversial, derogatory statements for years, the fact that Flower Boy was hyped as the album where Tyler, the Creator came out of the closet was, for some, reason enough to dig into it, to give him a second chance, to reassess his past statements or, you know, dismiss him all over again. Yet despite lines about "kissing white boys since 2004", the crux of Flower Boy isn't Tyler revealing his sexuality so much as he's revealing his loneliness. This is a profoundly sad album, where the immaculate production hits all of your brain's pleasure centers at once while distracting you from how isolated he feels. Happiness is always elusive, which is why he pulls out every trick he can to prevent us from seeing the real human beneath, from stacking the tracks with guest spots to releasing the worst song as the lead single. Yet the more time you spend with it, the more you wan to keep coming back to the emotional world he's constructed for himself. You'll share in his loneliness, too. - Evan Sawdey



53. Lana Del Rey – Lust for Life (Interscope)

The image of physically scaling the Hollywood sign's "H" encapsulates Lana Del Rey's ethos in that celebrity is not some abstract pinnacle one reaches but one that needs to be experienced in person. Chasing the rush of fame drove the impeccable Born to Die and, five years later, the feeling of having achieved it is evoked by the smoldering warmth of Lust for Life. Still, the disarray of the world broke through even to pop's foremost escapist, but she addresses it and her well-earned status with cryptic optimism; "Is it the end of an era? / … / No, it's only the beginning." What Lust for Life teaches is that one can – and, possibly, should – stay as vigilant towards the affairs that affect us all while also indulging in the selfish, beautiful act of seeking love. - Brian Duricy



52. Paramore - After Laughter (Fueled by Ramen)

Many bands know what a Herculean undertaking reinventing their sound is. This year, nobody did it better than former pop-punkers Paramore. Four years since their last release, Hayley Williams and co. released After Laughter, which fuses sleek elements of '80s new wave, funk, and synthpop while keeping their emotional foundations intact. The most important ingredient to Paramore's success is the return of founding member Zac Farro, whose musical direction in side project HalfNoise point to the influence he had on crafting the new Paramore. Although ten years removed from their breakout, Riot!, they're still "in the business of misery" with songs like "Fake Happy" and hit single "Hard Times". But if the misery business means more of these grooving bass lines and tropical marimbas and guitar riffs, sign me up. - Chris Thiessen



51. (Sandy) Alex G - Rocket (Domino)

Alex Giannascoli refines his paradoxical impulses on Rocket. On his eighth full-length overall, and second for Domino, he crafts a beautifully strange brew of haunting folk with a narrative that's oddly indistinct. He's learned to work within the constraints of an album, a format that he treated with some flippancy during his Bandcamp years, though he still finds any excuse to circumvent the format as he draws upon a patchwork of ideas. Giannascoli finds his muse in longtime collaborator, and partner, Molly Germer, an accomplished violinist who adds whim and character to his otherwise sparse arrangements. From yearning country ballad "Bobby" -- their voices entwined and harmonized to their lush, string-led compositions -- to the gliding melancholy of "Powerful Man", they provide a touching ode to traditional folk that comes across as some alien take on a Smithsonian Folkways recording. And yet Rocket is so much more, taking on a surfeit of modern and antiquated music styles set against a backdrop of bucolic terrain. But even at its most eccentric, Giannascoli has accomplished a winsome collection of handcrafted songs that leave a lasting impression. - Juan Edgardo Rodriguez

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)


In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

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