20 June 2007

Mulholland Dr.

[Written ages ago]

Dir: David Lynch, 2001

I have a pile of DVDs that sit, unwatched. They wait, patiently, for the moment that they realise their potential and rotate at high speed inside my DVD player. The more I want to watch one of these discs, the longer they usually have to wait before fulfilling their potential. See, with a film I’m not that bothered about, I can just give it a spin without a second thought. The films I am eagerly awaiting, though, have to wait for when the moment is just right, for when I am sure I can devote my undivided attention for over two hours. And so they wait.

Anyway, I watched the Culture Show on Saturday. I don’t know why I do it when Radio 4’s Saturday Review is on at the same time, and is far superior. Let’s face facts: it’s not hard to be superior to a TV show hosted by Lauren Laverne that features ten-minute puff pieces on Maximo Park (a band I saw supporting LCD Soundsystem once, and during whose set I was only being kept awake by my feelings of unadulterated hate. The headliners ruled though). I’m just bitter about the show ever since they bumped Verity Sharp off presenting duties, presumably on account of she didn’t look enough like a startled boy to fit in with the current BBC presenting scene (joke influenced by Charlie Brooker). That reminds me: I must listen to more Late Junction.

The one thing of interest on the programme was that posh arty bloke wandering round an exhibition of David Lynch’s static visual art. It was pleasantly surreal, and he seems to have taken to Photoshop rather well, and he gave good interview. Then Mark Kermode (at least I’m above ‘commode’ jokes. I guess) reviewed Lynch’s new film, Inland Empire. I didn’t stick around to hear it, on account of I like going into films as fresh as possible, and I decided tonight would be the night I watch Mulholland Dr., probably the most extreme example of the films I want to see so much that I never actually watch them.

Being that I do not normally go in for hyperbole, I will allow myself to declare this film both the best and worst American film I have ever seen. Of course, I do not mean this literally (I think the first two Godfather films are better*, and I think Queen of the Damned and the first Harry Potter film are worse**), but it both amazed and infuriated me.

I am not sure why but, despite knowing this was a Lynch film, with all that implies, I was expecting something a tad more normal than what I got. I don’t even think it was a case of The Straight Story lulling me into a false sense of security, as I always saw that as an aberration in his body of work. I reckon it’s mainly just due to various media outlets banging on about how great a film it is, without mentioning how insane it really is.

And it begins normally enough. It actually begins in a very arch and on the nose manner, but I find that pretty refreshing. There are shots of Hollywood, but with an ominous musical tone creating an atmosphere of foreboding. Phone calls are made, and the shot is of a phone ringing, or the back of a man speaking on a phone. It was all so matter of fact that I should have expected it would all implode with the strain of maintaining a straight face.

What Lynch does in twisting the stereotypes of filming Hollywood itself is very interesting. As well as the aforementioned juxtaposition of Hollywood Hills and eerie tones (as though Lynch house composer extraordinaire Angelo Badalamenti had decided to go all John Carpenter on us), the colouration of the film seems to have been an intentional act of usurping the usual Hollywood associations.

While California has been associated with nothing but sun in everything from Baywatch and The O.C. to Arrested Development, early shots in this film break with tradition. When ‘Rita’ first eyed up the house in which she eventually made temporary residence, I first noticed the blatant greyness of the scene. And, in those scenes not set during nightfall, I saw nothing to contradict this feeling.

In fact it was not just the visual tone of the film, but the production values as a whole that impressed me. While I usually start checking chapters and clocks in an agitated manner well before most films have ended, I felt as though I could have happily watched this film forever. Quite apart from the fact that the entirety of the piece seemed to take place in that perfect moment just before the heavens open, and sweet, sweet rain purges the ground beneath, everything else just seemed to click.

I have a fascination for anything Hollywood-based; it’s almost sick. The amount of hours I have spent watching Cribs, The Fabulous Life of…, The Hills et al can be gauged only by secret, room-filling, steam-powered retro-chic computers from the future. Hollywood-gone-bad is even better: the myriad social pratfalls encountered by Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm send me into paroxysms of hilarity and, as physically soon as Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson split, the ostensibly romantic Newlyweds took on a ghoulishly addictive sheen, like a pink, heart-shaped box full of haunted heroin.

Obviously this tale of would-be starlets, mob-threatened directors, horrifically bad nose jobs and shadowy figures was less up my street than it was peering through my bedroom window, flashbulbs a-popping. In fact, the Lynch exposition was comforting in its soft surrealism. The aforementioned archness and shots of phones were to be expected, as was the very small man doling out single-syllable orders while in an otherwise dark, featureless room. The first major reveal of any note that I currently recollect was also a major step in the right direction.

In quite the engaging diner scene (I love diners), a man told another man about a dream he had. It was a bad dream, involving a terrifying face. That off his chest, they leave the diner, turn the corner of the building oh so gradually, when boom! A terrifying face appears and man #1 collapses. We don’t actually see him again until much later in the film, but that’s for much later in this post. In his defence, the face was very scary, and the scene was filmed very much to get that jump reaction from viewers.

The film was so expertly played that I actually relegated this sequence to the back of my mind for the body of the piece. That body, of course, was the tale of Hollywood life at its most mysterious and intimidating. While before I had seen it, my attention had been drawn to the alleged dual leads of Laura Elena Harring (one of the few legitimately beautiful actresses in a vast, characterless ocean of ‘hotness’, and yes, there is a difference) and Naomi Watt. That’s a bit of misinformation as far as I’m concerned: the narrative strand concerning hapless director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) is as important and arguably more compelling.

Kesher is rather an arrogant film director who is unimpressed at what seems to be mafia involvement in the casting of his upcoming film. He thinks nothing of rejecting who two shadowy men think should be cast as his female lead. Thankfully, this is only the beginning of a descent into a disturbing downward spiral for Kesher. First up is the little matter of his wife screwing around on him.

Now, upon seeing the other man in bed, I was going to make one of two jokes. The one I decided on was referring to him as a man from 1987. Not great, I’ll admit, but rather accurate given his mullet and attire. The other joke would have been to refer to him as Billy Ray Cyrus; essentially shorthand for the former anyway. Then, when the credits rolled, I saw none other than Mr. Cyrus on the cast list so, as the Bee Gees once sang, the joke was on me. He then gets knacked by Cyrus, gets turned bankrupt by malicious forces, and ends up agreeing to meet a mysterious man who goes by the name ‘Cowboy’.

Of course, cocky Adam Kesher is initially amused at the idea of this ‘Cowboy’, but soon gets very intimidated after a late-night drive to a dark ranch results in The Cowboy persuading him to do the right thing (‘you will see me one more time if you do good. You'll see me two more times if you do bad’). The ‘right thing’, of course being the casting of that blonde girl from Home and Away in the lead of his new film. This strand ties in with the other major thread when, after agreeing to the casting, he sees the delightful Betty Elms (Watts) and is gutted. That’s the end of that one in terms of linear narrative.

While I love the Kesher story (and not just because I want a pair of his spectacles), the ‘main’ tale is also compelling. In short, a woman (Harring) being driven somewhere is involved in a crash. In a state of amnesia, she wanders into a nearby house, on account of the resident is departing. She meets Betty who, staying at her aunt’s mistakenly assumes the woman is a friend of the resident. Harring’s character, dubbing herself ‘Rita’ on account of a Hayworth poster she spies, eventually explains the real situation, and the two decide to get to the bottom of her mysterious identity. Betty, meanwhile, is a young Hollywood hopeful and we accompany her on a very impressive audition.

So far, so good. Somewhere along the line it all gets a bit lost in its own sense of intrigue. I really have to watch it again, actually, because this is one of those films whose first viewing provides more questions than answers. I am a generous viewer, so I ask not about the coincidence that the owner of the house Rita enters is off on her hols. I do ask about the old couple who Betty befriended on her way into Cali, though, as they turn up later in the back of a car, looking hellishly pleased with something or other.

Anyway, the tale of Rita and Betty playing dual Nancy Drews is an engrossing one, and the part of the film that prompted me to think ‘I could stay in this world forever’. There is much to recommend it: the audition Betty goes on is a scene that draws the viewer in like few others I have seen. Kudos here to the performers for making a segment of a big film feel so intimate; it was almost ethereal in its tone. The exquisite beauty of Harring was a definite boon; there are many actresses in Hollywood displaying a certain ‘hotness’; very few are actually beautiful in a classical, timeless sense. And to think she used to be in Sunset Beach.

Cutting to the chase, I remember watching the bedroom scene, wherein our two protagonists end up getting romantic, and thinking ‘this has to change the relationship’. I knew it was a tipping point of some kind, I just didn’t realise it was the signal for all hell to break loose. I thought that maybe there would be some compromise of either the search for identity of the search for work, and figured on the latter, seeing as the audition story was running into something of a cul de sac.

Instead, it was the moment in which the film – that had lulled us into a false sense of cinematic security with its safe surrealism – plunged into a nosedive into Parts Unknown. While I tried to pay due attention during this closing stretch of utter dementia, will was insufficient. It was just too mad.

From what I can recollect, we saw the scary-faced individual from the side of the diner, and a blue cube. I think one of the main characters actually disappeared into it, or at least the camera (our perspective) did. There was an alternate universe I didn’t pick up on at the time; things like names of protagonists and waitresses being switched. By this stage, I was so overflowing with utter chagrin that my subconscious refused to take any more.

Scenes came and went that mixed characters from the Rita and Kesher arcs, scenes that seemed to jump into temporal points in relationships that were either yet to happen or never to be. The more this frenzied switching, as though Lynch’s work experience kid had bumped into someone in the corridor while holding the script, and had attempted to sort the sheets that had gone flying like a snowstorm of potential paper cuts, so everything had been accidentally muddled… the more I saw of this, the more frustrated I grew with it.

To me, it seemed that what had started out as a wonderful piece of cinema was being besmirched to a massive degree by what was apparently a massive copout. It was almost as if Lynch had started a classic script, but was unable to finish it in that style for fear of taking a misstep and ruining it.

Trips were taken, both before and after the blue cube debacle, to a mysterious club called Silencio (the lip synch performance of ‘Crying’ was another wonderfully moving scene): it was here the film would find what ended up being a fitting conclusion. After this stanza of sheer madness, we end up back in Silencio, as the camera zooms in to a figure in the stalls. As I’m sure I have seen in nightmares about ham-fisted pseudo-surrealist parody, the character uttered the word ‘silencio’, at which point the credits rolled.

It was a maddening anti-climax to what had been about two hours or so of excellent, enigmatic, compelling cinema. Even comedy vignettes such as the botched assassination in which everything that could have gone wrong did so seemed perfectly pitched. I didn’t care that loose ends didn’t seem as though they would meet denouement. But when the downward spiral of quality began, I would see characters from earlier in the film (the diner fainter, for example), and resent their very reappearance.

As I somewhat facetiously stated at the outset, this was both the best and worst film I have seen. For so long it was nigh-on perfect, but it was that soaring into the heavens, to borrow a reference from the most hackneyed of writers’ handbooks, that led to the sun’s proximity to melt its wings, and send it back into the very world of mortality it sought so desperately to escape.

*I know, oh-so predictable.
**Yes, I have actually seen them. Long story.

I gave you the world, it was all for you

So Tom decided he would bang on a bit about the excellent ‘Capt. Midnight’, by Mike Patton’s* rather hit-and-miss Tomahawk. Good on him, it’s nice he likes the song enough to post about it et cetera. However, I always considered that my song (you know, because ownership of a recording is largely based on whether a particular dork in Leeds likes it a lot), so what follows is what I think about the song in question.

I always viewed the song as a pastiche of the angst rock movement that seems perennially popular among the pretend disaffected of our society, and in hindsight it seems a long time coming. See, it’s pretty common knowledge that the band which made Patton famous, Faith No More, rather influenced a sub-genre of rock known as ‘nu-metal’. It’s not like FNM are to blame for this, as really good bands in any area of music are likely to spawn numerous inferior imitators. Still, FNM (and numerous other early 90s Californian bands, like Rage Against the Machine, Tool, to a lesser extent Jane’s Addiction…) were pretty solidly ripped off.

And it’s not just nu-metal that ostensibly ripped off FNM, as Biohazard’s entire oeuvre was essentially an urban take on ‘Surprise! You’re Dead’ (apart from that band’s best album, the 1996 release Mata Leão, which is bizarrely slated by their fans as their worst. Probably because they decided to write some songs that didn’t sound like ‘Surprise! You’re Dead’). Still, the influence was there, in possibly the most maligned rock movement of the decade. **

And by ‘nu-metal’, I am of course referring to that cash cow that began with Korn’s success, which soon led into Deftones (who are to the scene what Led Zeppelin were to metal: self-distancing because they wanted to seem cool), Coal Chamber and Limp Bizkit, before snowballing on in directions as superficially broad as Slipknot and Linkin Park. Ironically, a listen back to the album that started it all, Korn (1994), reveals that it sounds precious little like the over-produced slick-boy music that followed. Recorded on fifties equipment, the music sounds surprisingly organic in hindsight, there being more in common with Cypress Hill circa Black Sunday (there’s another one for the early nineties Californian influences on nu-metal, then) than anything that followed. While it set the template of explosive angst building from quiet fidget, as well as the self-loathing routine, that is nothing we hadn’t already heard from Nirvana, whose Nevermind was rather glossier to the ear than the Korn debut.

I digress, as usual. The point is that Faith No More, whether we or they like it or not, begat nu-metal, and in 2003 Mike Patton apparently saw fit to directly respond to that. He had, of course, made reference to nu-metal in the past, such as when it was rumoured that there would be a nu-metal tribute album (‘A FNM tribute record? Who gives a fuck? Do you really want to hear bands ruin great songs? My advice is to let sleeping dogs lie’), or that ex-FNM drummer Mike Bordin would be temporarily replacing injured Korn sticksman David Silveria (I can’t find the quotation online, but it was to the effect that Patton would never be able to trust Bordin again).

FNM ended in early 1998, having witnessed, though not being directly influenced by, the initial rise of nu-metal. Patton’s most prominent immediate post-FNM projects came in the form of Mr. Bungle’s excellent California, as well as the debut from the Fantômas super-group; Tomahawk emerged in late 2001 with a quality self-titled record. After the uncontrollably chaotic controlled chaos of Bungle, and the step beyond provided by Fantômas, Tomahawk – a collection of veterans of FNM, Jesus Lizard, Helmet and Melvins – was more traditionally ‘rock’, albeit with the self-awareness and humour one hopes would accompany such a crafty veteran outfit.

Ergo, while it was based on an updated JeezLiz sound, there were touches of electronics (Patton is a very public fan of such labels as Tigerbeat6), strange vocal themes and enough imagination to keep it interesting. The album also featured a greatly missed facet of Patton: the big chorus. The big chorus features twice on this album, benefiting both ‘God Hates a Coward’ (even if it just a mantra of ‘on and on and on and on and on…’) and the album high point ‘Sweet Smell of Success’, which boasts vocals that sound like Macy Gray and a weird downtempo Bristolian barbershop sequence. Like Tom mentions, there is also a big chorus on second album Mit Gas, and it is the biggest of them all.

Tom hears the song in a different way to me: he views the chorus as an honest expression of catharsis, ‘like all the tense, steadily building electronics in the world couldn't connote how he feels; he just needs to scream’, but I think Patton’s delivery here goes some distance beyond that. Obviously, there is what Patton calls a ‘visceral, direct impact’ to the chorus, that release of whatever it is he has built up during the first verse, but there is a self awareness to the ostensible catharsis (‘I know it's unromantic, but I think of myself almost like a craftsman. You get the pieces that fit, and you put them together’).

And here is where the nu-metal reference comes in. See, while previous big Tomahawk choruses were mid-paced, melodic affairs, this is a beast of entirely different stripe; angst and aggression is the name of the game. To these ears, Patton is sending a message to the aggro pretenders by parodying the big, angry chorus, but also performing it so well as to outdo the current generation on every level. He’s the twenty-first century Alexander Pope in other words, as he pulls off the pastiche with no small amount of aplomb and very particular attention to detail. I won’t go as far as to compare ‘Rape this Day’ with The Rape of the Lock, don’t worry.

What really impressed me on a visceral level is how intense the chorus vocal is. Beginning as simply loud projection, the performance builds incredibly subtly through the passage. By about halfway through, I am convinced it is the greatest rock vocal performance I have heard; what is most impressive is the perception that Patton is at once giving the impression of screaming uncontrollably while maintaining complete control of what he is doing. Sadly, as with all the best passages, this is all too brief and not to be repeated (like the deliriously good ‘The Prizefighter’ by Slo Burn).

This segments lyric is what really betrays Patton’s intention behind this chorus; the listener is at once wowed by the delivery while raising an eyebrow at the ostensibly intentionally juvenile wording. But it is in this very juvenility that the truly inspired nature of the work shines through – attributions of anger in the abstract are the epitome of angst rock subject matter, and this song doesn’t disappoint:

Are you surprised?
I'm stayin' alive, I spit in your eye, Drive a stake in you

This is the first couple of lines that set the scene. Amelodic screaming enters for the first time with:

Take me away, take me away

…Which reaches a crescendo with the ‘world’ beat in:

I gave you the world, it was all for you

Patton then provides dynamic counterpoint with a relatively controlled…

But I'm sick and tired of wasting time, I want mine

…Before repeating the ‘take me away… all for you’ refrain, and finishing with the amazingly affecting, and steadily building:

Stinkin' lies, stinkin' lies, stinkin' lies

This chorus is a particularly effective juxtaposition to the rest of the song: largely electro beats and tinkling keyboard melodies. The transition to the chorus is somewhat foreshadowing, with the introduction of increasingly frequent live drum fills, but not so much as to detract from the impact of the explosion into chorus (a riff on the quiet-loud nineties alt-rock structure?). Oddly, this musical formula returns post-chorus but, as there is no repetition of the chorus, the track just fizzles out, overcome by the blank silence of space; this is the ultimate statement on the futility of directionless teen-rock angst. Patton, in the space of one pop song, displays both his massive vocal talent and inherent satirical streak, plunging a stake into the vampire that would suck at the lifeblood of his enduring inspiration.

* Well, it’s more the baby of erstwhile Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison, but that would get in the way of my point.
** Nu-Metal was still more artistically rewarding than Britpop.

12 June 2007

Queens Of The Stone Age – Era Vulgaris Initial Thoughts

Rekords Rekords/Interscope, 2007

Right, seeing as I tend to preface these things with a brief history of the artist and I, here’s the skinny on Homme and throughsilver: I have to admit that I wasn’t on at the ground floor with QOTSA. I didn’t get the album on Loosegroove. I in fact waited until 1999 to get the first album because I was (am) a big Kyuss fan and didn’t like the prospect of what Homme admittedly satirically referred to as ‘robotic trance rock’. I got it in the end, and loved it, so it was all good.

I then went a bit crazy (in a good way) and got the EPs, all the Desert Sessions stuff, and went on to buy all their albums as soon as they were released. It was great up to and including 2000, which is when I got the excellent Rated R as well as the fifth and sixth instalments of Desert Sessions, but sadly turned a bit sour by 2002. Songs for the Deaf was a bit mediocre for them; it opened with a Desert Sessions rehash (I generally don’t mind their re-workings, but not to start a new album!), had those annoying ‘DJ’ segments, and pretty much every song seemed to go on a minute or two too long. The less said about Lullabies to Paralyze, the better.

So it was with no small amount of trepidation (and very little optimism) that I bought Era Vulgaris. I had downloaded it, but couldn’t even be bothered listening to it. Still, I saw it in the shop and decided I might as well get it bought. I am heartened to report I was in for a very pleasant surprise. The initial impression the album left on me was that it seemed to be a legitimate progression from the sound Josh had been working with in the late nineties, as opposed to the last album (and, to a lesser extent, the one before that). The strange yet compelling riffs were back, along with that gorgeous guitar tone (that’ll be Chris Goss producing then) and the willingness to throw the listener some aural curveballs – as opposed to that rather homogenised major-label-band sound they had ended up with.

‘Into the Hollow’. So the Lanegan song is predictably good (and I kind of miss it after all we got last time was that lullaby to kick off the album). Only time will tell quite how good a Queens & Lanegan song it is, but I very much doubt it will beat the absolutely serene ‘In the Fade’ on the all-time list. Still, it’s lovely enough to remind me of that balmy summer afternoon in 2000 when I first heard Rated R. Maybe it’s just because it’s June and I’m currently in the same room as I was then. The only real difference is that I am reading Hi-Fi+ as opposed to Too Much Coffee Man.

Overall this does seem to be rather musically braver than the last two albums (admittedly not a hard task to accomplish). The riffs really are wonky and rude, as though the guitars bungee cord had been stretched too tightly in the direction of the mainstream over the last half-decade; it has now snapped back into strange rhythms, a hook-less world, devoid of accessibility yet strangely catchy in its own way. Indeed, the bungee cord has snapped back with such ferocity that it has actually flung the arrangements far beyond the realm the debut inhabited, into the Queens’ own Stone Age. This is not quite Kyuss-heavy, but that is ably compensated by the depth of the mix here. To say there is a lot going on would be an understatement.

‘Make it Wit Chu’. This is obviously a continuation of the grand QOTSA tradition of sticking a Desert Sessions song on their album. I don’t mind this instance, because the song has been sufficiently altered… and they didn’t make the lethal mistake they did in 2002 by opening the damn album with a rehash. This is more of a ‘Monsters in the Parasol’ type of success story, then, but I don’t know whether I prefer this to the original. It’s more sophisticated, definitely, but I love the laidback groove of the best Desert Sessions stuff, and the original has Polly Jean Harvey on it.

3’s & 7’s. I wouldn’t know where to begin with the grammar on here, so I shan’t. This is apparently the lead single and it rather echoes ‘Little Sister’ in its quality-without-ever-threatening-transcendence professionalism. It admittedly picks up about halfway through, so that’s a good thing. The snotty bass fill could even have been played by one Nick Oliveri once upon a time, though this is sadly far from the quality of ‘No-One Knows’ at present.

River in the Road. It’s a shame this one fades out after only three minutes, because its militarily-inspired percussion propels it along in quite the compelling manner.

Running Joke ends just as it’s getting good!

So. The album, at fifty-four minutes, is still a bit too long for my liking, and it’s a shame Homme has forgotten how good albums can be when they can fit on one side of a C-90 (there’s a reason why Jebus made records twelve inches). Despite that, and the ostensible lack of a big finish*/hooky single (probably a blessing in disguise with regard to the consistency of the record), this is easily the most fun QOTSA album to sit through, and potentially also their best album, since 2000. If nothing else, it’s refreshingly pleasant for an old senti-mentalist such as myself to be able to say, with conviction: The Queens are good again!

Your move, Metallica and Radiohead.

P.S. I miss Dave Catching more than I do Nick Oliveri.
P.P.S. I am still waiting, with aching heart, for a collaboration with John Garcia, the best singer who ever featured on a Josh Homme song.

* The last song is still a blinder though.

11 June 2007

Seven Ages of Rock: Never Say Die

Heavy Metal: 1970-1991

And so it was that I watched a metal documentary; now there’s a surprise. For those that didn’t know, I love metal, and I loved the VH-1 series Heavy – The Story of Metal. I didn’t even really intend to watch this one (rather, I had intended to watch earlier episodes, missed them and then sacked it off as a lost cause). Anyway, I had just got done watching The Producers and this was just starting.

The episode itself was enjoyable enough, even if the pearls of wisdom it dropped were common knowledge to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the genre: Rob Halford’s (ergo early eighties metal’s) look was based on his illicit trips to fetish shops.; he was gay (I still can’t believe people didn’t know. Come on, ‘Hell Bent for Leather’?); Black Sabbath were a bunch of normal blokes; punk rock made metal ‘uncool’, etc.

Far be it from me to suggest that esteemed writer Charles Shaar Murray was in any way plagiaristic with this episode, but the programme watched almost identically to an episode of the earlier VH-1 series; take a look at the blurb for ’British Steel’. Granted, there is not much one can say about the genre at that time, and such an endeavour presents the dilemma of choosing between a programme of insightful information that may not be known to the average viewer, thereby risking complaints about major omissions, or travelling the safe route of presenting the big information in a nothing-new format. Maybe Shaar Murray had something to do with the VH-1 show; that would explain the spooky level of similarity.

However, not only did the programme opt to present the lowest common denominator information, but even then there were some odd omissions*; such as when the transition was made from discussing the workmanlike British metal scene to their more glamorous, partying, American brethren. For some reason, this strain was alleged to have begun in the early eighties, when Mötley Crüe hit the clubs on Sunset Strip. This isn’t even a particularly trainspottery complaint, as the apparent looking away from such massive earlier bands as KISS and Van Halen is a touch absurd. Perhaps they didn’t feel these bands were strictly ‘metal’ but if they weren’t then nor were the Crüe.

Even the VH-1 programme featured the likes of Quiet Riot, but this is perhaps more an illustration of the differences in the metal experience of the two countries in question. KISS was an absolute phenomenon in America, but that success didn’t translate to anywhere the same degree in Blighty. Ditto Van Halen, I suppose. While they certainly predated Mötley Crüe by a clear half decade or so, their success in England only came with the synth frenzy of ‘Jump’ in 1984.

By that token, though, Mötley Crüe weren’t that big over here before then (they didn’t have a top twenty album in Britain until 1987). Meanwhile Quiet Riot – the first ‘metal’ band to reach number one in the US charts – seemed to barely register over here. If they want to keep the content faithful to the British experience, surely it would have been wiser to include Bon Jovi, which was massive in 1986. Pity poor Def Leppard, then: despite being part of the NWOBHM (Iron Maiden was a focal point of this episode), and one of the key players in the late eighties pop metal phenomenon, they were cruelly stricken from the record. Nothing they aren’t already used to, it has to be said, even though their influence on the likes of Andrew W.K. and My Chemical Romance is large and indisputable (certainly the former).

Also odd in its absence was Guns N’ Roses, the band that seemingly single-handedly bridges the gap in mainstream rock between the glam/Hollywood rock epoch and the ensuing Metallica/Nirvana ‘credibility’ era. And their first album was awesome. Maybe they’ll be featured in next weeks ‘Stadium Rock’ episode, but their trashy heroin chic antics would make strange bedfellows with the likes of Bruce Springsteen and U2.

I don’t know if it was a result of time constraints or some larger statement of cultural relevance, but I don’t like the way 1991 seems to signal the end of metal. Sure, the nineties lacked some of the totally mainstream names of the past that are known to all but it would have been nice, rather than perpetuate the myth that ‘then nothing happened’, if they had looked at the metal that followed. There was a narrative strand throughout the episode about how the genre kept getting heavier, faster, more extreme, but there was a definite sense of holding back. Getting heavier and more extreme is fine in the context of the Sabbath-Priest-Maiden continuum, but maybe true heaviness and extremity would have put viewers off. Let’s not listen to Venom, Slayer et al.

But even then short shrift is given to more recent metal. Directly after Metallica making it big with their ‘black album’, we had the emergence of Pantera; arguably the culmination of Metallica’s decision to cut the crap, get more streetwise and move with the times. It’s not like Pantera lacked commercial success either: their 1994 album Far Beyond Driven reached number one in countries around the world and sold millions. Vulgar Display of Power, from 1992, has gone multi-platinum in America alone. It’s just too heavy, too nasty and, possibly key for the subtext of this show, harder to laugh at than the likes of Priest, Maiden and Crüe. Am I being too cynical? Perhaps, but you can’t blame me after ‘metal’ was a dirty word for so long in musical circles.

My larger criticism of this episode is in the inherent hypocrisy of its very existence. Interviewed a few weeks ago on Radio 4’s ‘Loose Ends’ programme, Charles Shaar Murray explained his intention behind starting the series with a ‘year zero’ of 1965 because he wanted to individualise ‘rock music’ as an entity in itself, rather than merely a part of the ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ continuum. Honourable sentiments, perhaps, but that doesn’t explain the ghettoising of metal – itself an individual phenomenon dating back to at least 1970 and still in rude cultural health – as a single, datable, event in the continuum of ‘rock music’. It’s sad that Shaar Murray has seen fit to besmirch metal in order to glorify the rather nebulous ‘rock’.

For what it was, though, the programme was all right. The script didn’t attempt to deride the genre, we got some decent footage out of it (such as excerpts from an Ozzy Osbourne documentary I had no idea existed), and I was entertained for the duration. It was just a bit hamstrung by its own remit: if it wanted to be even slightly comprehensive, going from Black Sabbath to the black album in one move was foolhardy; if it wanted to present an overview of metal as a whole, the looking away from anything that happened after 1991 is a fatal flaw.

* Even the timeline on the website suggests nothing happened between the years of 1982 and 1990 or after 1991.
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