You, me, the music, and me.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

THE FALL Bend Sinister

Beggars Banquet BEGA 75 (1986)

In a recent record review, a critic cheekily referred to British post-punk legends The Fall as "Britain's best new band", and although the group has been around in name for over thirty-five years, the label is not altogether inaccurate, as the lineup has gone through more changes than the cast of Doctor Who. Frontman/vocalist/lyricist Mark E. Smith remains the constant in the group's ever-shifting personnel, and, as he once told an interviewer, "if it's me and your grandmother playing bongos, it's The Fall."

Bend Sinister showcases one of the strongest Fall line-ups (with Smith's American then-wife Brix on lead guitar) and came out as the group was enjoying a surge in popularity in North America. It's a darker album than their previous efforts for the Beggars Banquet label (The Wonderful and Frightening World of... and This Nation's Saving Grace), but it also contains some of their lightest, catchiest songs ("Shoulder Pads", "Mr. Pharmacist", and "Terry Waite Sez"), as well as murkier, moodier efforts like "Riddler!" and "U.S. 80's - 90's". Smith's lyrics are so obtuse that one wonders if even he knows what they mean, yet their surreality suits the band's shifting tempos and idiosyncratic textures (such as the clattering neo-industrialisms of "U.S. 80's - 90's" or the roiling guitars and pounding drums of "Gross Chapel - British Grenadiers"). Like Chrissie Hynde's Pretenders (or, to a lesser extent, Axl Rose's Guns 'n' Roses), The Fall is the brainchild/creative outlet of one person, and, though his bandmates may come and go, if Smith is on a Fall album, then you can bet it's a Fall album (bongo-playing grandmother or not).

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

MARIE ANTOINETTE Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Verve Forecast B000782202 (2006)

Released to mixed reviews and booing audiences at Cannes, Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette was one of the strongest American films of last year, and contained perhaps the most uncompromisingly singular vision to be found in a "mainstream" picture this side of Martin Scorsese's The Departed. Like Coppola's previous film, Lost in Translation, it carried itself forward mainly on mood and emotion; because of this, it was the kind of film that people either loved, or hated, or simply didn't see its "point". And, like Lost in Translation (and most of Scorsese's films), it was released in conjunction with a soundtrack album that, in its choice of (mostly) popular music and songs, seemed to receive just as much care in its production as the film which it accompanied.

For the film, Coppola chose a mix of the baroque-era sounds of composers such as Domenico Scarlatti and Antonio Vivaldi and the early-1980's new wave/post-punk of bands like Bow Wow Wow, Adam and the Ants, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. The album itself leans more heavily in favour of the latter, though the two styles complement each other wonderfully (the lead-off track, Siouxsie's "Hong Kong Gardens", is preceded brilliantly by a brief orchestral version of the song's theme). The two-disc set is filled out by modern "retro" groups such as Air, the Strokes, and the Radio Dept., and each disc closes with a soaring elegy by the Cure ("Plainsong", "All Cats Are Grey"). Like the movie for which it was compiled, Marie Antoinette expertly creates a world of mood and emotion that is all its own and from which a listener will be reluctant to leave.