Quick hits (March 2009)

It’s a new year, I’m in a new house, life feels brand-spanking new, it’s time for a new round of quick hits. Here we go.  (Also, this is post #600 for Quiet Bubble.  Yay for me.)

The Way I See It (2008) by Raphael Saadiq: Saadiq hits Motown with a vengeance but on his own terms. Except for the second take of “Oh Girl,” with the unnecessary presence of Jay-Z, there’s no filler. Not much goes over the three-minute mark. Everything Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson fostered gets proselytized here—the horn blasts, the high tenor and swooping baritone of the Temptations, the uptempo hooks that go for days, the rock-out drums and basses. Except for the drums and guest appearances, Saadiq does it all himself, making himself, of course, into the 21st-century version of Motown’s preeminent one-man-band, Stevie Wonder (whose harmonica shows up here, to emphasize the point). But Saadiq likes women—not just “loves” them—more than even Marvin Gaye, and his crisp and clean production owes more to Tony! Toni! Toné! (well, Saadiq’s earned the comparison—he led the band, after all) than to 1960s vinyl crackle and fuzz. As La Bella sez of the sound, “he nails it,” and adds his own thang by simply bringing his own feminist wit to the sound; if the women he tries to woo don’t dig him, he doesn’t blame them or hate them for it. He’s an adult, and he proves he’s not playing around by, well, being comfortable with the concept of playing around. Hell, he even owns a James Brown guitar sample on “Let’s Take A Walk.” Highlights: “Sure Hope You Mean It,” “Just One Kiss,” “Staying in Love,” “100 Yard Dash,” and every other damn track on the album (save one). A

The New Year (2008): …In which Matt and Bubba Kadane finally move beyond Bedhead and establish The New Year as its own entity. A new instrument, the piano, takes a key role on four tracks, and the brothers have finally come to ease with rocking out. Cases in point: the staccato riffs and start-stops of “The Door Opens,” and arena-rock vibe of “The Company I Can Get,” along with the swirling guitar lines of “X Off Days.” Plus, they’ve rediscovered their sense of humor. When Matt sings that he needs “all the company I can get/ Even that redneck in the red Corvette,” I laughed because I feel his pain and know he’s opening up to worlds he/I previously refused to understand. In “MMV,” the band lists off supposed pleasures that they “won’t regret having missed”: “Camping, and orgies, and places on the body that I’ve never kissed,” but acknowledge that those might be good, after all. As fortysomethings, the Kadanes are opening up to the wider world, instead of closing themselves off, and God bless them for crossing the blue/red state divide, lyrically as well as musically. Plus, for such mopes, damn if they’re not funny. Even better, underneath Steve Albini’s surprisingly clean production, there still rests the lugubrious pacing and building crescendos that’s characterized this band from the outset. They might blow up but they won’t go pop. A

Encounters at the End of the World (2008), directed by Werner Herzog: Herzog pontificates into the Antarctican landscape, talks to the assorted freaks and dreamers who live there, and captures the continent’s dangerous glory in all its blue-and-white beauty. Plus, it’s funny, mordantly funny, and filled with Werner’s barbed commentary about man attempting to conquer (or at least understand) nature, and failing miserably. The movie’s the dark flipside of Herzog’s book Of Walking in Ice. A-

Star Time by James Brown: If you’ve heard this box set and Live at the Apollo, you have everything you need to know about funk, and R&B. As a bonus, everything about black pop from 1966 onward will make at least some sense. 4 CDs, worth any price you can find. A+

Never Cry Wolf (1983), directed by Carroll Ballard Startlingly vivid images of the Alaskan landscape make the cold seep into the viewer’s bones, and the slightly distanced, distracted tone of the voiceover—and protagonist Charles Martin Smith in general—keeps things eerie and a little woozy. It’s dreamlike and the narrative, already diaphanous to begin with, gets fuzzier as the movie progresses. That’s not a criticism; Ballard intends to create a sense of opaque story and character motives, even as the visuals get crisper and more resonant as the movie proceeds. He’s a master of showcasing animal life—though NCW is fiction and bound by the conventions of the protagonist’s diary entries (which in themselves get more lyrical and less fact-based as the movie goes further), this could be a nature documentary. Bouts of impressionism take hold and never let go. Never Cry Wolf is structured as a series of vignettes, bound together by the arctic chill that blows through the celluloid and a removed camera that emphasizes—in case you lose the point—how insignificant humanity is in the face of all this dangerous splendor. Show this as a double bill with Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World, and you’ll never want to step into the cold again. A-

Fanfan la Tulipe (1952), directed by Christian-Jaque: Swashbuckling fun and Gina Lollabrigida’s lovely and bouncing form—what’s not to love? Well, it goes on for too long, the swordfights are a little clumsy, the movie’s not nearly as funny or charming as it thinks it is, and then there’s Gina Lollabrigida’s, um, acting. (She has, seriously, two expressions. If that.) Still, Gérard Philipe is a dashing rogue—the Hugh Jackman of his day; you’d go to bed with him in a second but you don’t trust him for a second, either—and the photography gleams in the sunlight. C

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Athens, GA. His work has been published in RogerEbert.com, Bookslut, The Comics Journal, Salon, The Baseball Chronicle, Jackson Free Press, and Valley Voices: A Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter (@walter_biggins), and check out his bimonthly newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/Walter_Biggins).
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2 Responses to Quick hits (March 2009)

  1. w says:

    saadiq – a great talent. “just one kiss” is off the chart. the 2 to 3 minutes songs are great pieces of remirroring motown but also, saadiq is one of the few talents younger than i am that i really appreciate. i hope that future songs branch away from motown and showcases maybe even more capabilities.

  2. Lynn says:

    I saw Never Cry Wolf when it was new. It’s one of my all time favorite movies.

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