So I did some weird shit last night. I showed up at a local game retailer for the midnight launch of UNCHARTED 3: DRAKE’S DECEPTION. Outside of Metal Gear Solid (and the 50 Cent franchise), this is the only series that matters to me. I’ve never done the Collector’s Edition preorder/launch thing before. Never cared enough. I felt weird and out of place, as the dudes standing around the store were seriously fucking undead. They smelled like stale cigarette smoke and ass-sweat (which I usually refer to as “spice melange“), and they came dressed in ratty hoodies and pajama pants. They seemed like tweakers.
Now I know what the racist, homophobic dirtbags who teabag you in multiplayer dogshit look like.
Anyway – the game is seriously stunning. The 3D is terrifyingly, dizzyingly immersive, the graphics are gorgeous, and the controls have something I’ve never felt before in a game: personality. I am in awe and in love with this game and this franchise.
Let’s take a look at the flickness.
CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND
If you saw Galaxy Quest and Charlie’s Angels (and Happy Hell Night) and loved Sam Rockwell, you were waiting for this moment in film – where a great filmmaker gave him a role he could use to prove to the rest of the world that he is truly a treasure. Based on the…peculiar memoirs of Chuck Barris – legendary TV producer/host and legendary CIA spook. I fucking LOVE this movie.
Many dismiss this very excellent, nuanced film as a post-Tarantino knock-off, but Copland never aspires to QT’s brand of artifice or flash – James’s Mangold film is a gray, sober character study with a really fantastic central performance from Sylvester Stallone. Here he finally finds truth in those early-career comparisons to Pacino (Stallone casts off self-parody here right about the same time that Pacino embraces the monster-shouter persona wholeheartedly. Thank John Christ he’s not in this flick).
QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER
Long a Wal-Mart exclusive, this exemplary take on the old school adventure-western from talented journeyman Simon (The Phantom) Wincer becomes available to those who brush their teeth.
TOY STORY 2
TOY STORY 3
All three films see release on 3D BD this day, and I can tell you that the first two films – especially Toy Story 2 – benefit by the application of depth. Based on the immersive cinematography that constantly seeks to break the fourth wall, Toy Story 2 seems to have been conceived as a 3D project from the start. They’re still great (minus TS2’s incessant mining of lame Star Wars imagery – though the Pixar peeps do a better job of honoring that legacy than Lucas has, I guess).
ALL IN – THIS WEEK’S BLU:
The Big Country – also formerly a Wal-Mart exclusive, William Wyler’s epic tale of familial rivalry is now available everywhere.
Cars 2 – Pixar had to make a piece of shit someday, and they accomplished it by catering to lowest common denominator rednecks. At least they got it out of their system.
Chicago: Live In Concert – Look away, baby, look away…
A Christmas Carol
Christmas with a Capital C
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
Crazy, Stupid, Love
Fireplace & Melodies for the Holidays
The Grateful Dead Movie – fuck off and die, hippies.
An Invisible Sign
It’s A Wonderful Life – for the first time on home video, no doubt…
Life/Planet Earth Collection
Lindsey Buckingham: Songs from the Small Machine
Michael Jackson: The Life of an Icon
Michael McDonald: A Tribute to Motown Live & Michael McDonald Live – if I hear ‘Yah Mo B There’ one more time, I’m gonna’ ‘yah mo’ burn this place to the ground.
The Nutcracker: The Untold Story
The Phantom of the Opera – I prefer the Phantom of the Rapra or the Phantom of the Park, myself.
Placebo: We Come In Pieces – No, you GO in pieces, asshole.
Quigley Down Under
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Steve Winwood: Live
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
Toy Story 2
Toy Story 3
Usher: OMG Tour Live From London
Warren Miller’s Wintervention
Water for Elephants
NOW THAT’S WHAT CHUD CALLS MUSIC – WITH JEB DELIA!
LOU REED & METALLICA – LULU
Some people are calling this the worst album ever recorded, but that’s just the sound of knees jerking. Serious fans are embarrassed for their heroes, but hell, it’s not even the worst album that Reed has ever put out: remember, this is a man who once released a (full-price) two-LP set of white noise (and, at that, I’m not entirely sure that Sally Can’t Dance or Mistrial aren’t actually worse). I’ll admit, though, that Metallica fans might have a point: this is by quite a distance the least interesting music I’ve ever heard from them.
Wedekind’s plays about the German prostitute who has a run-in with Jack the Ripper (among other encounters) have been adapted into everything from to operas from comic books, so I suppose a rock treatment was more or less overdue. The German setting, though, hasn’t been Reed’s strong point before: Berlin is among the least-convincing artifacts of the blowhard side of his career, and Lulu has much of the same cheapjack “decadence,” but, for the most part, without the virtue of anything resembling actual songs. Instead, Lulu consists principally of ninety minutes of Reed ranting and intoning what I suspect he thinks is prose poetry, while Hetfield and company hammer away in the background. It occurs to me that I don’t actually know if they were even in the same studio when they recorded it (and I’m not sufficiently interested to look it up); from the sound it could go either way-in fact, the sumptuous quality of the recording is probably the best thing about the album.
The pieces (“songs” really isn’t the operative word here) are mostly long and plodding musically, while reaching to the point of hernia for epater le bourgeoisie outrage: “I would cut my legs and tits off / When I think of Boris Karloff and Kinski / In the dark of the moon.” “Tie me with a scarf and jewels / Put a bloody gag to my teeth / I beg you to degrade me / Is there waste that I could eat?” If you say so, Lou. Though I have to admit that, as a rallying cry, “I am the table!” is certainly… well, unique.
High points? The opener, “Brandenburg Gate,” has a catchy sort of riff that would benefit from more (any) development. The twenty-minute closer, “Junior Dad,” has the closest thing to singing that Reed attempts on the album, and achieves a kind of droning feel that’s vaguely like Daniel Lanois remixing “The End.” “Iced Honey” might be my favorite track: its vaguely country-western vibe kind of sums up the entire album: it’s like a Teutonic version of Deadbolt, if they’d lost (or never had) their sense of humor.
Is this an ambitious project? Sure it is. Are we fortunate to have musicians willing to stretch the bounds of convention in ways we’d never expect? Absolutely. Do they deserve your fifteen bucks as encouragement to continue? Trickier question.
FLORENCE & THE MACHINE – CEREMONIALS
A lot has happened in the three years since Lungs: Florence Welch has gone from the corner tent at Coachella to saluting Aretha at the Grammys in the company of flashy divas like Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Hudson. She’s reissued a “deluxe” version of her first album that outsold the original. And with a current break in the Lady Gaga/Adele action, there’s a diva opening on your local radio that Kelly Clarkson can’t fill all by herself.
The studio technique feels a bit more refined this time (if also a bit more predictable), with lush waves of sound building, thrumming, before crashing like powerful surf in little orgasms of release; not for nothing is one of the album’s strongest tracks called “What The Water Gave Me.” The lead single, “Shake It Out,” lays out the thematic divide between public confessional and the privacy with which most of us treat relationships: “All the goons come out to play / And I like to keep some things to myself.” Big-voiced heartbreak remains the SOP for the pop charts, but Florence isn’t as willing to tip her hand as are Adele or Clarkson. The “I think it’ll rain down again” of “Breaking Down” is coyly nonspecific, and the mysticism of “Seven Devils” is recommended to Stevie Nicks. She throws a couple of welcome changeups at the end, with the sweet 60’s pop of “All This And Heaven Too,” and wrapping the album up with the tough R&B of “Leave My Body”: “I don’t want your future / Calling me down / History keeps pulling me / Pulling me down.” Slightly vague thought, but powerfully conveyed.
GIRL IN A COMA – EXITS AND ALL THE REST
Coming hard on the heels of Wild Flag and the Dum-Dum Girls (not to forget Those Darlins), Girl in a Coma are continuing to make 2011 the Year of the Women With Loud Guitars. Gay Hispanic women, in this case, an underserved demographic if there ever were one, and I’m pleased to report that being about as far from that demo group as it’s possible to be doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of this album’s songs of pain and redemption, and its lovely sheer guitar noise.
That this San Antonio power trio (two sisters and a friend) continues to develop at a rapid pace isn’t particularly surprising when you consider the maturing process they’re naturally undergoing: lead singer, guitarist, and principal songwriter Nina Diaz was only 13 when the band formed in 2005, and she’s still growing into her talent. Her voice is a powerful wail over the clashing guitar-bass-drum racket, and her songwriting is astonishingly assured. She catches the painful contradictions of adolescence on “Sly”” “I couldn’t tell a lie to save my life / But I broke his heart again and spit it back to him;” while “She Had a Plan” takes a cannily mature perspective: “Listen here my friend / The story never starts / Until you break your heart.”
“Adjust” is the dark, demanding opener, with Diaz’ vocals demonstrating growth in both assertion and control since last year’s Adventures in Coverland. Her classic-rock riffing employs enough punk edge to keep your ears from getting complacent. Sister Phanie’s drumming can be loopy on “One Eyed Fool,” rock-solid on “Smart,” while Jen Alva’s pounding bassline adds texture to “She Had A Plan.” And over and over again the three musicians put it all together with deceptive ease: “Cemetary Baby” builds effortlessly to its foot-stomping crescendo, “Hope” is all militant memories of the Clash, and “Control” braces Nina’s eerie, swooping vocals with all three slashing a buzzsaw drone beneath.
The songwriting can seem stretched a bit thin at times (Adventures in Coverland was a mixture of originals with covers that were chosen as idiosyncratically as they were performed), and maybe half the tracks on here are genuinely what you’d think of as keepers. But taken as a whole, Exits And All The Rest is as refreshing a slice of rock and roll as I’ve heard this year.
DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET – THEIR LAST TIME OUT
On December 26, 1967, the classic Dave Brubeck Quartet, featuring Paul Desmond on alto sax, Joe Morello on drums, and Eugene Wright on bass, concluded its final tour with one last live performance, in the ballroom of Pittsburgh’s Hilton Hotel. Following a disappointing final studio session for Columbia, the label wasn’t interested in documenting the gig, so Brubeck paid to have the concert recorded out of his own pocket; thus, this release from Brubeck’s own private tape collection, now by way of Sony/Columbia’s Legacy imprint. Just ignore the circuitous path the recording took, and dig into the music. A few live recordings from the group’s last tour have been released in the past, but only individual tracks here and there: not only is this a document of their valedictory performance, it’s also the only recording of a complete concert from the tour, allowing the listener to absorb and appreciate the ebb and flow so integral to Brubeck’s work.
Brubeck kicks things off with his familiar “St. Louis Blues,” while Desmond salutes the season by tossing a quote from “The Twelve Days of Christmas” into “Three to Get Ready (And Four to Go)”. Brubeck was among the earliest American exponents of Latin American jazz, and he offers some of his most expressive playing on the Mexican folk song “La Paloma Azul (The Blue Dove)”. The collection of standards is satisfying – including “Someday My Prince Will Come,” a rousing “Swanee River,” and stellar duetting from Desmond and Wright on “You Go to My Head.” “For Drummers Only” is the Morello showpiece you’d expect, and naturally things close on a performance of “Take Five” that finds the ensemble digging into it as though refusing to consign the piece, or their partnership, to the museum of jazz heritage: it’s as lively and revealing a performance as Brubeck’s signature tune ever received.
While the mono sound here isn’t as full as was captured on earlier stops along the way, it’s clear and detailed, and well worth the slight sonic compromise for the performances.
OTHER NOTABLE 11/1 RELEASES:
Miranda Lambert – Four The Record. Like Taylor Swift, she poses the interesting question: if an artist grew up at a time when country music was selling its soul to diva pop and hair metal to widen its audience base, wouldn’t it be reasonable for them to naturally write “country” music that reaches for the that same dreary lowest musical common denominator? In other words, it’s quite possible for an intelligent, independent woman from Texas to write half an album of strong, perceptive songs (“Fastest Girl In Town,” “Dear Diamond,” “Baggage Claim,” etc.) but set them to overproduced musical bilge. I’d still give this one a stronger recommendation if the other half of the songs here had the same level of inspiration, but trust me, you’ve already heard “Over You,” “Nobody’s Fool,” and “Oklahoma Sky” even if you haven’t heard them.
Megadeth – TH1RT3EN. I’m not going to pretend that I looked real hard to see if I could get a preview copy for this one: for me, the distinction between this band at their best, and at their worst, is pretty negligible (the cutesy album title didn’t help). I will just observe that this marks the recorded return of bassist Dave Ellefson, which is evidently cause for rejoicing in Megadeth Nation.
Pink Martini & Saoyi Yuki – 1969. Pink Martini a 14-piece orchestra that “… incorporates a number of different styles into their music including lounge, classical and jazz.” Yuki is evidently “Japan’s Barbra Streisand.” Given that, I probably don’t need to try hard to steer you away from this album, but that would deprive you of the chance to hear “Puff The Magic Dragon” sung in weirdly trans-Pacific-accented Japanese. And how could I live with myself?
Carole King – A Holiday Carole. The last Christmas album I can recall by a Jewish musical survivor from the 60’s was Bob Dylan’s raggedly spastic Christmas in the Heart, one of the great room-clearing recordings of all time. I loved it. This one is tastefully produced by King’s daughter Louise Goffin, features tasty contributions from King’s jazzbo pals, and mixes the tastefully obvious (“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “Sleigh Ride”) with some equally tasteful new songs. It put me to sleep.
Beegie Adair – Into Somethin‘. Mostly-instrumental albums saluting vocalists are always a tricky proposition, and I can’t say that I hear anything on this sumptuously-recorded collection that is particularly characteristc of Helen Merrill, its nominal dedicatee. However, expertly-played small-combo jazz piano is not to be sneezed at these days.
The Decemberists – Long Live the King. I generally don’t review EP’s here (since the material often duplicates, or winds up on, full length albums), but it’s nice to see a band release some standalone outtake material, rather than requiring fans to re-acquire an entire album just to get the “bonus” stuff. The feel is actually a bit closer to Crane Wife than last year’s sessions, which is probably why these didn’t make the cut for The King Is Dead. And the Grateful Dead cover makes good use of its seven-minute running time.
The Beach Boys – The Smile Sessions. As usual, there’s a variety of different ways to indulge in this one, depending on how much one is willing to pony up. No question, though, this is the rare example of a set that offers, both in the unreleased recordings and the accompanying notes from the participants, unusual insight into the creative process. I put the multi-disk/book package on my Christmas list, but I have the feeling I’ll have to settle for the 2CD set.
U2 – Achtung Baby. Yes, an important album in a remarkable career (over thirty years without a personnel change). And I guess I can see wanting maybe the 2-CD version with some unreleased stuff. But six CD’s and four DVD’s, book, art prints, etc., for four hundred simoleons or thereabouts? And it’s not like this was some legendary lost artifact of misunderstood genius: this album actually came out.
Queen 40 Limited Edition Collector’s Box Set Volume 3, with five remastered studio albums (The Works, A Kind of Magic, The Miracle, Innuendo, Made in Heaven) each with a bonus disk of rarities, and lots of acompanying graphic product. There’s not an album in here I’d listen to twice, but Amazon keeps pestering me with these offers…
Jethro Tull – Aqualung – 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition. The album where Ian Anderson went from being a mildly amusing eccentric to an overbearing annoyance, in a new set whose myriad delights evidently include a “previously unreleased stereo mix”– I’m vaguely curious to know if that means more Martin Barre, or less… but not curious enough to buy the damn thing.
TONY’S PLAYIN’ GAMES!
UNCHARTED 3 (PS3)
Lately, I’ve been having wet dreams involving Sully and Helen Mirren. I think it’s because I’m really, really excited for this game. Naughty Dog are pretty much fail-proof this go round, they perfected their formula in Uncharted 2 and all they need to do is give us more. More of the most exciting gameplay and story this generation. The groundwork they laid in two was so solid and basic, it’d be almost impossible to fuck up. Uncharted 2 works because it was a well-crafted game. To fuck that up they’d have to turn it into a farming sim, or make Drake British and blonde. Something terrible like that. But Naughty Dog is smart, they aren’t going to do that. They will do what they know and deliver a solid game. Uncharted 3 is going to be good. It’s the law. We don’t have to worry. We just have to play it. And say ‘oh shit’ a bunch. Seriously, I’m looking forward to saying ‘oh shit’ when hanging from ledges. Always a blast.
LORD OF THE RINGS: WAR IN THE NORTH (PS3, 360)
Dumped. A week(ish) before Skyrim. Same day as Uncharted and NCIS: The Game. It’s sad really. Snowblind does good with this kind of thing, and the license could be fun. It’s probably a great game for the loot whore crowd. But fact remains, Nathan Drake isn’t a fucking dwarf. This game loses.
SONIC GENERATIONS (Wii, PS3, 360)
It’s a good 3D (and 2D) Sonic game. I just don’t want one of those anymore. I can’t wait until someone rips the soundtrack to Youtube though.
GOLDENEYE 007: RELOADED (PS3, 360)
I played some N64 Goldeneye again a few months ago. It sucks so much. It’s like driving a mannequin through grainy security camera footage. Rare didn’t make a truly good game until Viva Pinata. But, it was huge and nostalgia is a motherfucker. So here is an HD remake of a Wii remake of the N64 original.
There are no games besides Uncharted 3 this week. Shut up, ignore the made-up games I just listed, and buy Uncharted 3.
Indeed. Even if you have to stand in line with a bunch of scumbags who smell like the spice melange to do it.