Cocteau Twins – Heaven or Las Vegas

An interesting album with weird melodies accompanying a unique voice, Heaven or Las Vegas¬†(1990) by the Cocteau Twins represents a lot of variety to me. I can feel inspiration from the 80s style of new wave and electronic music combined with a desire to make something new and fresh. Cocteau Twins accomplishes that with this album. As I write this, and make my third full listen-through, more parts of each song become apparent. At first it is hard to get passed the leader singer’s vocals. It is quite a catching voice, although many times incoherent. However, having grown accustomed to her voice, I notice a lot of things going on behind her. The music is just as catching as the voice, it just went unnoticed by me at first. For example, during the track “Road, River, and Rail,” there is a steady beat that is played along side many odd sounds that I, honestly, cannot tell from what instrument they derive. But that’s ok, it does not make the song any less enjoyable.

As a whole, this album has a mellow feel. There is not any song that I can think of that has a fast or invigorating feel. It gives the album a consistency, possibly a theme. To start the album is the track, “Cherry-coloured Funk.” The opening guitar riff and drum set the mood for the rest of the album. It is played steadily and casually, as if there is no hurry at all in singing or making this song. There is no rush to these songs. Every one of them plays like they feel they should. There is no need for a fast paced song on this album. Once you start listening to the album, it just plays for about 40 minutes, and then it’s over. And everything is neat. I do not know any actual details of the production of this album, but when I listen to it, I can imagine all the band members just casually playing their parts. No need to hasten anything, no deadlines, everyone just plays. Once again, this could be completely opposite of the production process for Heaven or Las Vegas, but you do not get that feel.

I have no outstanding tracks for this album because I feel the need to listen to it as a whole. Unlike when listening to previous albums, I’d get the urge to skip around after the first run through. Heaven or Las Vegas calls for a complete listen. So, I recommend you take about 40 minutes out of a day and do just that. Put it on, and just relax while the melody slowly drives forward. Trust me, you won’t even notice the time.

 
Track List

 

 

Next Week: Doves – Lost Souls

 

Josef von Sternberg – Der Blaue Engel

The Blue Angel (Sternberg 1930) is a sad movie about a sad man. The main character is Dr. Immanuel Rath (Emil Jannings), who falls in love with a burlesque artiste (Marlene Dietrich). Rath is a professor at a local college, which he emphasizes often. I am going to go ahead and assume that college means high school for us U.S. blokes. Overall I was not that into the movie. I had to actually steel myself to sit down and watch it, and I kept picking up my phone to distract myself. However, I finally focused about 30 minutes in to this 1 hour and 47 minutes spectacle of a film. There were definitely some interesting parts and some downright boring parts. So lets just leave it at that and focus on what was good.

To start with, Sternberg did a great job with parallels in this film. There are definitely comparing scenes that recall the opposing mindset of Dr. Rath and different points in the film. My favorite scenes were the middle (what I consider the middle, I didn’t check the actual time) and the end. Both are shot beautifully with the Dr. at his teacher’s desk. The camera is slightly to the right of the screen, and it starts to track backwards, never moving the Dr. from the focal point. The empty student desks are wonderfully symbolic of what is going on with Dr. Rath. Another parallel that I loved is the bird metaphor that is repeated. The movie opens with the Dr. waking up, being served breakfast, and then realizing his bird has died; the maid’s comment, “It stopped singing a long time ago.” This scene can be compared with the scene right after the Dr. first sleeps over at Lola’s. He wakes up to a bird singing. The bird metaphor here is fabulous, he thinks that just like the bird in a cage, Lola is also trapped. It is too late that he realizes that she is here of her own volition. No one has caged her, and therefore she needs no saving or taking care of.

The first half of the film is kind of boring. Dr. Rath’s character is pretty bland here and he becomes the butt of many a joke, for his students and the viewer. He really starts to shine at my halfway point when he sticks up for Lola against the insults of his boss. It is also here that his life starts to spiral downwards. Not to give to much away (if I haven’t already) but shit gets bad for Dr. Rath. The last half of the film is about Dr. Rath’s attempts at coping with his new life as a part of the traveling act that Lola is a part of. I think this last half is where Emil Jannings as Dr. Rath really shines. Throughout the whole film, he never says much, but during the latter half, his silence is gut wrenching. I just wanted him to scream and rail against everything, but he cannot even fathom what is happening.

I find it hard to continue this talk without spoiling too much so I’ll end it with this, if you’re a movie goer, maybe skip this one. If you’re a film watcher, check it out. For a film new to sound, only three years after The Jazz Singer, it handles sound wonderfully. Hence, why this film is considered a musical as well. In fact, it even falls within one of the two typical musical categories, a backstage musical. What I found great is that it mixed the backstage musical with the storyline musical, inserting music into everyday occurrences. But like I said, if you’re into film, check this out, not if you’re just into movies (you might think it’s boring, like I did at first).

 

Cast and Crew

 

Next Week: Howard Hawks – His Girl Friday, Christopher Nolan – The Dark Knight (I plan on watching both Nolan Batman’s in preparation for The Dark Knight Rises, eek)

Adam & the Ants – Kings of the Wild Frontier

Ah the 80’s. I was born during this decade, however I was not that coherent. Kings of the Wild Frontier (1980) by Adam & the Ants is a tremendously good album. Personally, I am a big fan of this era of music. The style of music in the 80’s has always been enjoyable. The style I am referring to is New Wave, not hair metal (no offense). From open to close, this album had me listening in. I even stopped doing anything else but listening. The use of drums and guitar strums accompany lead singer Adam Ants continuous voice. He never stops, and I do not mind. The big musical part of this album is the percussion. It is varied and prevalent. The guitar is also present, but I felt it was behind the drums. Of course, nothing could be more stand-out than Adam Ant’s voice.

The first stand out track on this album is the opening number, “Dog Eat Dog.” It is fast tempo song that actually starts out with a swing-like drum roll., and then the guitar kicks in. The guitar is mainly a couple of strums. It is not continuous but comes in strong. To further this swing connection is Adam Ant’s use of “Daddy-o.” I can see some good ol’ boys and girls dancing away to this track. The next stand out track is “Killer in the Home.” Once again, the song starts with a drum roll, then the guitar strumming, and then the voice. But, there is a bass undertone that sneaks in when Adam Ant is not singing. This bass line carries the rhythm. The track is somewhat haunting when you really listen to the lyrics. However,¬† as I’m writing this, I have repeated the song 4 times.

The title track really brings all the unique aspects of this album into one cohesive track. Adam Ant’s voice is still the most prevalent part of the song, but the drums are heavy, and the guitar keep sneaking in and out, until the couple of parts when everything explodes together. When these parts play, I find myself closing my eyes and trying to hear everything. I want to hear every little piece of the song. The rest of the album is as fun as the previous tracks. In “The Magnificent Five” there are some harder guitar parts, kind of grungy. Recalls a thing a friend of mine said, that Adam and the Ants really paved the way for new music, they tried new things that everyone started doing. I can hear it, and if you don’t believe me, just listen to “Physical (You’re So). The most fun track off of King of the Wild Frontier is “Don’t Be Square (Be There).” “Antmusic for sex people, sex music for Antpeople.” The song sounds like the band is just having fun jamming. The playful guitar strums adds to the merriment.

To end this post I will say that Adam Ant is as unique as his music. Pirate wave is what I’m calling this CD and it is because of Mr. Ant (“Jolly Roger” really is pirate music, I swear). As he sings in “Don’t Be Square (Be There),” “You might not like it now, but you will.” So, get the CD, download Spotify, whatever, listen to it. Favorite album of the list so far, by far.

 

 

Track List (U.S. release not UK)

 

Next Week: Cocteau Twins – Heaven or Las Vegas

Roland Emmerick – Independence Day

That’s right, fucking Independence Day (Emmerich 96). I just made this blog PG-13. I decided that with the 4th upon us U.S. people that a fitting movie would be right. So, after perusing my 1001 book, I found this gem of a disaster and sci-fi epic. I remember when I first saw this film; I loved it. I even begged for the alien toy so that I could open up the exoskeleton and play with the insides (hehe). Watching now, I have a different perspective. If the the title alone did not cue you, this movie is patriotic to the core. Amidst all of the humor, the catastrophe, and the off and on screen deaths, patriotism rings clear. But, I do not think it was all about U.S. patriotism. Let’s look at the film, and the cast to see what I mean.

A group of aliens attacks earth and tries to destroy everything and everyone. To combat this threat, militant groups worldwide get together to fight the invaders. Although the movie is definitely grounded in the States, it does reference and allow scenes that show the fight elsewhere (many of these scenes are stereotypical and cheesy though). The English fighting with Middle Eastern forces, the Russian, and even different Asian militaries are all fighting to exist. This is evidenced in the cast, which is as diverse as it is lacking. We have David (Jeff Goldblum) and his father, Jewish. We have Steve (Will Smith) and his girlfriend/wife Jasmine (Vivica A. Fox), Black. We have regular white people, even white people with Hispanic kids. We do not have any major Asian players…; anyway, Bill Pullman as the president says it best in his riveting and inspiring speech to the people before the big attack. We must put the petty squables aside for the sake of mankind. So, this movie wants to be about unity for everyone, and it succeeds and fails. A I stated previously, it shows scenes of people from different countries fighting the good fight, but they seem so cliche. Once again, the U.S. is the featured country in this film, and it does not stray far.

Now with that said, how cool is this film special effects-wise. You might not think so with the likes of Avatar (Cameron 2009) and Prometheus (Scott 2012) now being around, but for 1996, this movie had the stuff. First of all, it is science fiction, so that’s a win. Second, it has ridiculous humor like the casting of Randy Quaid, that’s another win. Third, watching national monuments get blown up is pretty cool, especially when it looks great, even today. This movie is a special effects spectacle. Granted there are plenty of lame effects too, like the obvious superimpositions, or work with green screens. However, that can be forgotten, and mostly ignored, when thinking about the film as a whole. I admit I did laugh when I saw this film was on a list of films you must see before you die. I mean that has to give it some credit right. All in all, I enjoyed rewatching Independence Day. I will end this blog with just one really bad thing. Did you have to make the strongest female character in the whole film a damn stripper, huh Emmerich? Why was the part of her backstory even necessary? My thoughts, they just wanted to show some ass. Does ass make this an R rated blog now?

 

Cast and Crew

 

Next Week: Josef von Sternberg – Der Blaue Engel, The Blue Angel

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Cosmo’s Factory

I’m sure most of you have heard of CCR at least once in your lifetime. Songs like “Travelin’ Band,” “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” and “Who’ll Stop the Rain” are played all the time on the radio. For me, listening to a whole CD of CCR was not a thrilling idea. The fact that the radio repeats the same songs from the same bands over and over is part of the reason why I avoid it, mostly. However, keeping with the surprising turn of events of the CDs I have been listening to for this blog, I found Cosmo’s Factory to be pleasant overall. Admittedly, I had to listen to it multiple times because when the songs that I am familiar with start playing, I zoned out. So, I made sure I heard it once through, with no distractions, before writing this.

The opening of the album is my favorite part. “Ramble Tamble” opens up with a good riff, and then sounds like good ol’ CCR, but, at the 2:00 minute mark, the song changes for me. This is when I perked up and really started paying attention. Fogerty’s voice disappears and it becomes 4more minutes of instrumental goodness. Singing picks up again at the last minute. The nice interplay of guitar and drums, with some noticeable bass in the background, makes “Ramble Tamble” the best song on the whole album. After awhile, they start playing this oddly placed sequence, going 1, 2, 3,…1, 2, 3, that I find hard to explain except by saying it sounds kind of ahead of its time. This album came out in the 1970, and the use of a sound that feels synthesizer-esque (it’s probably just a piano), with nicely placed guitar riffs on top, is ahead of the game to me.

The rest of the album is plain CCR, which is not bad at all if you’re into a group influenced by blues and southern rock. The second song on the album feels so bluesy that without Fogerty’s distinct voice, I wouldn’t be able to tell it was CCR at all. As long as Fogerty is singing, it always sounds like Creedence. What I liked about this album, besides the previously stated, is the covers. “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” is an amazing song not matter who sings it, almost. Whether it’s Marvin Gaye or CCR, I can never turn this song off. “Ooby Dooby” is a cover of an old Roy Orbison song. This song is just fun. I dare someone to listen to it and not want to dance. Even I wanted to dance, and I’m like Elaine. The last cover, that I know of, on this album is “My Baby Left Me.” Originally an Elvis song, it also inspires movement, even if it’s just toe-tapping. It has a great opening with the Double Bass sound.

To sum it up, Cosmo’s Factory is not a bad album. However, with today’s radio it is hard to really listen to CCR without hearing songs that have been played over and over. So of course, many of the standout tracks I haven’t heard before. If you’re not a CCR fan, no problem, but I do suggest listening to “Ramble Tamble” for that 4 minutes of awesome instrumental.

 

Track List

 

Next Week: Adam and the Ants – Kings of the Wild Frontier