Music

The Subways: All or Nothing

Ross Langager

The Subways rock undeniably out, without a hint of either hipster pretense or mainstream recumbence and with plenty of hopping.


The Subways

All or Nothing

Label: Warner Bros.
US Release Date: 2008-09-09
UK Release Date: 2008-06-30
Amazon
iTunes
What the mass media offers is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish.

-- W.H. Auden

Woah. That's pretty badass.

-- Ross Langager, upon seeing the cover of the new Subways album

By all rights, the Subways should be a guilty pleasure. There they are, cutely energetic Brits from the Home Counties who sound like Californian rock-radio mainstays, laying down power chords like railroad ties and driving home the hooks like spikes. They rock undeniably out, without a hint of either hipster pretense or mainstream recumbence, and with plenty of hopping. They are best known in America for selling teen-soap tie-in soundtracks with a gloriously dumb rocker demanding that you "be my little rock and roll queen". By any reasonable measure, they should simply be consumed and forgotten, as that dead poet suggested, to be inevitably replaced by the new.

But what it is about the pleasure afforded by a band like the Subways that must necessarily be preconditioned by guilt? These twelve barreling tunes (or nine, anyway; more on the subtler outings in a bit) certainly don't challenge your worldview, or enrapture with their boundless creativity, or deconstruct the basic assumptions of established popular music. But why should we distrust the pure surge of pleasure such impeccably-rendered sugar-rush rock provides? Is enjoyment that isn't lashed tightly to intellectual insight so aesthetically suspect? Are we all closet Freudians, fretting and uptight and requiring ourselves to transcend our rampaging ids in order to stand out among a festering social cesspool of slavering, sex-mad reptilians?

I mean, the limeys put a bloody flaming airborne car on their album cover! You were expecting Finnegan's Wake?

Let's be honest: the Subways have their shit together. From the start, there is nary a misstep to be decried. All or Nothing's lead single, "Girls & Boys", is no winking pop ode to gender-bending like the Blur classic, but is a killer modern-rock stew of Britpop chime, towering power-chord monoliths, and soaring melodic trade-offs between Billy Lunn and Charlotte Cooper. Some Cobainesque screams are even thrown in at the end, for grunge measure. The polished hand of producer Butch Vig is clear, though no amount of expensive production can manufacture the swaggering attitude that permeates every track.

The clichés should be overwhelming: the guttural "ugh"s in "Kalifornia", the fist-pumping shouts of "Shake! Shake!", the "yeah"-heavy chorus of "Turnaround". But there's more at work here than meets the ear. For all its predictable elements, "Turnaround" beguiles with Cooper's girl-band countermelody and Lunn's closing uvula-scraper "You gotta believe!" The Subways haven't the restless dynamism or the biting, observant wit of their countrymen the Arctic Monkeys, but they don't simply layer distortion on like cake icing masking a shoddy baking job. There's a steady hand at the tiller of their song structures. It may indeed be Vig, but a band doesn't build up the kind of slavish live following the Subways have cultivated at the Reading and Leeds festivals without their fair share of chops.

As if to prove it, the Subways lay off the unforgiving rocking now and then to let Lunn indulge his latent acoustic-emo singer/songwriter side. It's curious to register how much more British Lunn sounds when he does this, especially in comparison to his flattened American syllabic outbursts that prevail on the faster tunes. It doesn't hurt that Lunn's lyrical choices in the ballads encourage the Albion associations, particularly the mention of the Irish Sea and the casually prim pronunciation of "Glasgow" in "Move to Newlyn" (which itself is a town in Cornwall, natch). The other lower-key exercises also provide some color. Album-closer "Lost Boy" is a lovely composition, extremely reminiscent of Australian folk-popper Josh Pyke in its breezy melody and striking banjo. It's kind of the "Butterfly" to the rest of the record's Pinkerton, a simply soulful counterpoint to the brassy abandon that swirled before it. "Strawberry Blonde" doesn't linger in the quieter registers, but wrings ample affect out of Lunn's sensitive bookends: "You're the wind / I'm the weathervane / You're the strawberry blonde / And I'm the grey".

All or Nothing has all of nothing wrong with it, unless you want to make an argument that that's what's wrong with it. Some would, but I won't. Are the Subways the rock equivalent of a chewy chocolate bar, rich and delicious and sweet, but ultimately insubstantial and equally bad for your health? Probably. So nibble away righteously at indie rock's organic vegetables, if you would. I'll be wolfing down Subways-brand choco-treats, blasting "I Won't Let You Down", igniting the hood, and accelerating for that jump ramp. See you in hell, Auden.

7

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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