Posts Tagged ‘vinyl’

The 10 Best Musical TV Moments of 2016

December 20, 2016

Vinyl: “Wild Safari” by Barrabás
“Think back to the first time you heard a song that made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up,” Richie Finestra bellows at his record-label employees. “Made you want to dance, or fuck, or go out and kick somebody’s ass! That’s what I want!” Vinyl showrunner Terence Winter had similar goals, but virtually none of the musical elements of his period drama clicked. This despite the imprimatur of co-creators Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese, who know a thing or two about making magic with music, and supervisors Randall Poster and Meghan Currier, whose previous collaborations with Winter and Scorsese on Boardwalk Empire and The Wolf of Wall Street were all killer, no filler.

There was one grand and glorious exception, and it had nothing to do with Jagger swagger. Rather, it was the result of an unlikely alliance between demoted A&R doofus Clark Morelle (Jack Quaid) and his mail-room buddy Jorge (Christian Navarro). When the latter takes Clark to an underground dance club, they enter in slow motion to the ecstatic sounds of the 1972 proto-disco song “Wild Safari” by Barrabás. The killer clothes, the fabulous dancing, the beatific smiles on the faces of beautiful people, the irresistible rhythm, the rapturous “WHOA-OH-OH” of the chorus, the sense that an entire world of incredible music has existed right under his nose — you can feel it all hit Clark right in the serotonin receptors, and damn if it doesn’t hit you, too. Perhaps my favorite two minutes of TV this year, this sequence demonstrates the life-affirming power and pleasure of music.

I wrote about major musical moments in The Americans, Atlanta, Better Call Saul, Game of Thrones, Halt and Catch Fire, Horace and Pete, Luke Cage, Mr. Robot, The People v. O.J. Simpson, and (yes) Vinyl in my list of 2016′s 10 Best Musical TV Moments for Vulture.

“Vinyl” thoughts, Season One, Episode 10: “Alibi”

April 18, 2016

The emotional climax of Vinyl‘s first season is the performance of a fake punk band fronted by the son of Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall. Songs by the Stooges and the MC5 — bands that did the Nasty Bits’ pseudo-proto-punk better, and years before the fact, IRL — bookend it on the soundtrack. The New York Dolls watch from the side of the stage, beaming with approval even though their very real, and also superior, music kicked off the season by literally tearing the house down. The individual members of the Ramones are in the audience, apparently so impressed that they go out and form a band, the way the Sex Pistols’ 1976 gig in Manchester begat Joy Division, the Buzzcocks, the Fall, and the Smiths (and, uh, Simply Red). The concert ends when the police shut it down on obscenity charges, like a Jim Morrison reboot. It’s supposed to be the second coming of pure rock and roll and the salvation of American Century — excuse us, Alibi Records; instead, it comes off like a needle scratch.

I reviewed the season finale of Vinyl, a huge disappointment, for Rolling Stone.

“Vinyl” thoughts, Season One, Episode Nine: “Rock and Roll Queen”

April 13, 2016

From the Nasty Bits’ lips (literally) to God and the writers’ ears: It’s always a great idea to place Jamie Vine at the center of the action. Juno Temple’s ambitious A&R up-and-comer is one of the series’ most vibrant players: living on the edge, ears and eyes open to new experiences but nostrils mostly closed to them. And since no good Vinyl character comes without a signature Seventies look, don’t forget her incredible hairstyle (her face seems to be poking through a blonde waterfall). She’s the “Rock and Roll Queen” that gave tonight’s episode its title, if the Mott the Hoople song that soundtracks her MMF threesome with Kip Stevens and his guitarist Alex is any indication. It’s her self-possession and confidence that turned what could have been a dreary “girl comes between the boys in the band” storyline—the exact one predicted by a furious Andrea Zito when she discovers both Jamie and CeCe are sleeping with American Century acts — into a surprising, spontaneous, sexy scene. Now that’s what I call conflict resolution!

I reviewed last weekend’s Vinyl for Rolling Stone.

“Vinyl” thoughts, Season One, Episode Eight: “E.A.B.”

April 5, 2016

It’s the golden rule of cool: The more you try, the less you are. Should Vinyl ever take that lesson to heart, we might have a hell of a show on our hands. The fact is that when its characters are sagging rather than swaggering, losing rather than boozing — that’s when it’s at its most watchable.

Take the opening scene of tonight’s episode, entitled “E.A.B.” To the (highly expensive to license) tune of the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,”Richie, Zak, and Skip walk into a bank in slow motion, where they try and fail to get a loan. It’s a funny, charming sequence, taking full advantage of actors Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano, and J.C. MacKenzie’s sad-sack faces, their perfect period clothing and hair, and their natural Three Stooges interplay. In essence: When its characters fail, Vinyl works.

I reviewed this weekend’s Vinyl for Rolling Stone.

“Vinyl” thoughts, Season One, Episode Seven: “The King and I”

March 30, 2016

It lasted no longer than the A-side of a 45. But for a brief, beautiful period on tonight’s Vinyl — titled “The King and I,” because of course it is — it looked for all the world like we were about to enter an alternate timeline in which Elvis Presley invented punk rock.

I reviewed this week’s Vinyl for Rolling Stone.

“Vinyl” thoughts, Season One, Episode Six: “Cyclone”

March 24, 2016

As the late great David Bowie himself once sang, “Don’t lean on me, man.” Would that Vinyl had listened: The show’s sixth episode — “Cyclone” — was also its weakest, the first where its tales of excess and ecstasy threatened to just fall apart completely. You can’t blame Bobby Cannavale and Olivia Wilde, who seem to pour body and soul into every scene. But despite the high-decibel dedication and all that boundlessly destructive physical energy, their performances are practically drowned out by the pyrotechnics of twisty reveals and the clunky incorporation of IRL icons.

I didn’t much care for this week’s Vinyl, which I reviewed for Rolling Stone.

“Vinyl” thoughts, Season One, Episode Five: “He in Racist Fire”

March 15, 2016

Five episodes into Vinyl’s initial spin and one thing is clear: This show hates Jethro Tull.

Remember a few episodes ago, when Richie Finestra got so incensed by the “Aqualung” impresarios’ flute-laden prog rock that he yanked the record off the turntable and smashed it over his knee? This week, merely presenting our antihero and his A&R right-hand man Julie with a group of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Ian Anderson renaissance-faire goobers was enough to get the Ivy League tryhard Clark (“I graduated from fucking Yale!”) demoted to sandwich gofer. Look, we believe Metallica should have won that Grammy 27 years ago too, but after the second season of Fargo used “Locomotive Breath” to score an amazing gang-war montage, this should all be water under the bridge. You’re really gonna listen to “Cross-Eyed Mary” and argue that these dudes were everything wrong with Seventies rock & roll, while Loggins & Messina walk free? Fight the real enemy, folks.

I reviewed this week’s Vinyl and defended Jethro Tull for Rolling Stone.

“Vinyl” thoughts, Season One, Episode Four: “The Racket”

March 7, 2016

To be honest, not everything Vinyl does that falls outside the usual prestige-drama purview actually works. The frequent fantasy cutaways to late musical legends performing songs vaguely relevant to the characters’ state of mind — these things are already obvious from what we’ve just seen and stop the show dead in its tracks every time. Musically, they could just as easily be slipped into the soundtrack instead of unconvincingly staged by lookalikes in some celestial nightclub; unbelievable as this sounds, True Detective Season Two did it better. In the case of the many, many black R&B and soul singers these segments have featured: If the show (correctly) thinks they’re so important, maybe it should have been a show about them,and not about the obnoxious white guys who got rich off of their work. As it stands, there’s an uncomfortable touch of the “magical negro” trope to every time an African-American performer pops up to provide musical accompaniment to Richie and company’s innermost feelings.

And simply in terms of rock & roll fandom, there’s just something kind of off about these scenes. Vinyl‘s take on big-time music fans has generally been pretty tight — think of Richie and Zak trading childhood memories by the pool at his party — which makes this fundamentally misconceived device so frustrating. A good song can transport you to another place, but is that place ever an empty room with a lone, blindingly backlit performer? When you really connect to a song, it draws you in, weaves its way into your brain, becomes a part of who you are. It doesn’t leave you in the audience while the singer does their stuff. Maybe that’s why the most effective of these sequences involved Karen Carpenter, of all people: Besides the fact that there’s no icky race stuff in play there, her appearance melted directly into Devon’s life, singing in Mrs. Finestra’s car instead of in Rock Flashback Limbo. (By the way, the show’s respectful and admiring approach to the freaking Carpenters ought to leave people who complain about its supposed “rockism” with a lot of explaining to do. Sigh.)

I reviewed this week’s Vinyl for Rolling Stone. I actually liked it quite a bit, because it’s willing to buck tradition and be crazy rather than grim, but this was an aspect of the show I wanted to hash out.

“Vinyl” thoughts, Season One, Episode Three: “Whispered Secrets”

March 1, 2016

Devon goes to visit her old friend Andy Warhol, with a silkscreen of herself in tow. As he shoots her with his new video camera, their playful banter turns serious when he realizes he’s being prodded to sign the painting so that she can sell it. The dance company she oversees up in Connecticut, the last vestige of her old bohemian lifestyle, needs the money. “I can get a brush and sign it. That way they’ll buy it,” he tells her as she chokes back tears, before adding a joke to put her at ease: “You want me to sign your dress? They’ll buy that too.”

It’s a killer scene for several reasons. One is John Cameron Mitchell ofHedwig and the Angry Inch fame, who plays the great pop-art painter. His Warhol, as others have pointed out, is an altogether warmer and more charming figure than the shock-topped zombie we’re accustomed to seeing in films. (Wouldn’t he have to be, given that his entire business model as a superstar artist was knowing everyone?) In Mitchell’s hands, the Pop Art godhead is a people person, immediately intuiting the real reason for Devon’s visit and becoming quietly defensive. Then when he senses how desperate she truly is, he responds by helping her out.

But the scene is a standout primarily for how it’s shot. Courtesy of the episode’s director, Mark Romanek — whose influential music videos include Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer,” Johnny Cash’s “Hurt,” and Jay Z’s “99 Problems”— we see Devon primarily through Warhol’s camera, via either a nearby video monitor or POV shots from behind the lens itself. The living, breathing woman is out of focus, as is her silkscreen simulacrum; even the picture on the monitor is grainy. Andy’s questions become more like an interrogation designed to draw the truth out; Devon’s responses read like a performance playing positivity toward the camera. The setup emphasizes the fluidity of what she’s saying, the reduction of a former Factory luminary to a blurry memory of what she used to be. It’s thoughtful, carefully considered work, both verbally complex and visually stunning.

I reviewed this week’s fine episode of Vinyl for Rolling Stone.

“Vinyl” thoughts, Season One, Episode Two: “Yesterday Once More”

February 22, 2016

Yes, it’s early yet, and maybe there will be more to these women revealed in future episodes. But it’s 2016, folks. Prestige drama’s “wife problem” is an issue of long standing, and giving the females in these bad boys’ lives something interesting to do — even if it’s constrained by the sexism of the time — is hardly asking the a writers’ room to split the atom. This show has enough faith in its musical message to allow us to laugh about it. Hopefully, it will display an equal commitment to its characters by taking all of them seriously.

This week’s Vinyl was a mixed bag, with a welcome sense of humor about Richie’s rock’n’roll salvation and a pro-forma lonely-wife storyline sitting uncomfortably side by side. I wrote about it for Rolling Stone.

“Vinyl” thoughts, Season One, Episode One: “Pilot”

February 15, 2016

Even a record that’s a start-to-finish stone classic has one or two standout tracks that sum up the whole blessed thing: your “Stairway to Heaven” or, say, your “Drunk in Love.” And in the pilot episode of Vinyl, — the Martin Scorsese–directed, Mick Jagger–produced Seventies NYC rock drama fromBoardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter — a pair of scenes distinguish themselves from the pack. In the first, a coked-up, bottomed-out record exec named Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) rapturously watches the New York Dolls deliver a performance of “Personality Crisis” so blistering it literally brings down the house. In the second, Finestra and industry sleazebag Joe Corso (portrayed by real-life ex-cop and frequent Scorsese collaborator Bo Dietl) take a radio mogul played by Andrew “Dice” Clay and bash his skull in on-screen.

Based on this initial episode, in other words, this show is not going to make converts out of skeptics. Vinyl is for Horror City nostalgia buffs and people predisposed to belief in the healing power of rock & roll. It’s for music nerds who’ll flip out equally for cameos by golden god Robert Plant, his maniac manager Peter Grant, and hip-hop progenitor DJ Kool Herc … all on the same night! It’s for those pop scholars who’ll catch references to both perpetual also-rans the Good Rats and soft-rock punchlines England Dan and John Ford Coley. And it’s also for the kind of Scorsese fans who’ll recognize a scene’s doo-wop-soundtracked mafia meeting as a GoodFellasdescendant and who crave first-person voiceover narration like Jordan Bellfort jonesed for quaaludes.

So is it for you? You may think you know the answer already. But don’t be so sure.

I reviewed the series premiere of Vinyl, which I thought was a hoot, for Rolling Stone, where I’ll be covering the show this season.

Revisiting “Boardwalk Empire,” the Most Underappreciated Drama of Its Time

February 15, 2016

Nor has there been a finer, sadder example of a wounded warrior than Richard Harrow. Introduced by writer Howard Korder during season one while waiting for a psychiatric evaluation at a veteran’s hospital, Harrow (an unrecognizable Jack Huston in his breakthrough performance) makes a knockout first impression with his broken-throated, Gollum-like croak, the unnerving uncanny-valley mask he uses to hide his severe facial disfigurement (a sniper himself, he was shot in the face), and with the black nihilism he cites as the reason he no longer reads novels. “It occurred to me: The basis of fiction is that people have some sort of connection with each other. But they don’t.” I gasped when I first heard this line, dredged from my worst fears about life, love, and their collective lack of lasting meaning. Richard’s capacity for belief in humanity was blown out of him in the Great War, and much of his time on the show chronicled its slow restoration, though dozens of dead bodies dropped behind him on his way. This archetype — the man (usually) who is taught violence in service of an ideal, only to discover one is real and the other a cheap fiction — is a distinctly American one; The Wire’s Omar Little,Fargo’s Hanzee Dent, and Game of Thrones’ Sandor “The Hound” Clegane all share Richard’s table in their sad Valhalla. And though his final scenes were devastating, his greatest contribution to the series is in the teeth-grinding tension of the shoot-out sequence that completes the third season, as he blows his way through a small army of Rosetti men to rescue his late friend Jimmy’s son. The scene weds action to emotion as effectively and movingly as any I’ve ever seen, its resolution viewed through a blood-spattered window, an impenetrable barrier to normalcy for this tragic figure.

On the eve of the debut of Vinyl from the same creative team, I got to write a longtime dream essay of mine, a full-throated defense of Boardwalk Empire as one of the New Golden Age of TV Drama’s hidden treasures, for Vulture.

The 25 Most Anticipated TV Shows of 2016

February 8, 2016

Game of Thrones (HBO, April 24)

The cable network’s dark-fantasy juggernaut has left a long trail of dead characters and shocked audiences in its wake, though readers of George R.R. Martin’s books always knew when to duck. All that changes when the show returns for its sixth season this year — because The Winds of Winter appears to have hit the proverbial Wall, showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have been free to plan their own red weddings this season. While the show will continue to be based at least in part on future plans revealed to creators by Martin, it had already begun deviating from the source with increasing regularity and boldness. (Is Jon Snow alive or dead? Who the hell knows?) Look for an even stormier winter than usual.

I joined forces with ace writers David Fear and Rob Sheffield to run down the year’s most anticipated TV shows for Rolling Stone.