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Monday, April 30, 2007

Bulletboys - Live Behind the Orange Curtain review for Rough

Behind the Orange Curtain
Crash Classics
2.5 out of 4
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

For a miniscule moment, the Bulletboys took over the American hard rock scene as exiles from the nearly-forgotten King Kobra featuring Carmine Appice. In many ways, the Bulletboys reflected the mid-to-late era of Van Halen, which obviously attracted the latter band’s renowned producer Ted Templeton to their cause. On more than one occasion, fireball frontman Marq Torien lassoed the wild screeches of David Lee Roth while lacing his own bluesy and whiskey-soaked overtones into the mix, which helped put the Bulletboys on the map.

A ripping cover of The O Jays’ “For the Love of Money” and the pounding fuck jam “Smooth Up” are the endearment tunes most hairballs of the eighties latch onto, but beyond their self-titled debut album that most people stop at, the Bulletboys coughed up the equally solid Freakshow and Za-Za albums as they went out of fashion kicking and screaming along the way—Torien especially with his banshee wails.

I caught the Bulletboys and Enuff Z’Nuff together in the late nineties and part of what fascinated me with Torien and his evaporated original lineup was how he was still a blazing bundle of energy in a fur coat and tight slacks, as he hopped about in the air with hazy eyes and a frenetic determination to recapture the vigor of his eighties heyday. It was a hell of a set for a decade after-the-fact, and the same raw craziness of the gig I saw then sounds generally replicated in Behind the Orange Curtain.

Behind the Orange Curtain is a live document of the Bulletboys that may only contain one-fourths of the original inception in the form of Marq Torien, but his recruits in this ensemble, guitarist Tommy Pittman, Jimmy Nelson on bass and drummer Pete Newman all put in a respectable effort (they’re particularly good on “Toy” and “Walls”) for Torien, who still exhibits some of the same vocal sparkle in many spots like on “Hang on St. Christopher,” “Hell On My Heels” and “Shoot the Preacher.” Unfortunately, he sounds mostly bored throughout “When Pigs Fly,” one of my favorite Bulletboys tunes (and ironically enough, the same song Torien jumped around to enthusiastically like he had something to prove when I caught them). Also, there are moments where time is making its presence known—particularly on “Smooth Up,” where it’s sadly obvious the entire band is trying desperately to summon enough musical Viagra to impel its proper thrust. Mostly it sounds constipated instead of alluring as it’s intended to be. Regardless, Behind the Orange Curtain is a mostly entertaining listen that reminds us that the Bulletboys weren’t just an eighties flash-in-the-pan.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Albums That Make a Stand Post Discussion

Bob Vinyl came up with an excellent suggestion to wrap up our overview of albums that make a stand. I have other albums I was thinking on discussing in future posts if you all feel it's worthwhile, such as Living Colour's Vivid and Midnight Oil's Blue Sky Mining, but let's bring your thoughts into the picture for the moment. What songs or albums do you feel make a stand, either politically or socially? I think we all interpret music and their messages on different levels, which is part of music's appeal as a whole. It may not necessarily be the responsibility of musicians to do something profound or responsible, but it sure rings louder when they do! So the table is open for discussion...

Albums That Make a Stand: The Beatles - Let it Be

I'm fascinated with the story of when John Lennon sat down with Bob Dylan for the first time how Dylan expressed how much of a fan he was of The Beatles, yet he told Lennon they had nothing to say. This was during the Liverpool pop era of The Beatles and obviously Lennon and his mates took it to heart because the following result was Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, one of the most pivotal albums in rock history.

Without even meaning to, The Beatles made a stand for the world just by simply being during the turbulence of the sixties. After JFK was shot in America, the country was wounded and found solace in the mop-topped double-breasted suited Beatles that shook this continent at the seams by playing escapist fun music that allowed this nation to heal. But more importantly, once The Beatles found their true calling, they forever altered rock music, and that alone makes a stand. Pick your favorite band of today and listen to it with a discerning ear. You will likely find at least one or two obvious parts that were sourced by The Beatles. I practice this exercise all the time, just to prove the point. It's not illogical at all to say that music today owes everything to The Beatles.

I had a hard time picking a definitive Beatles album that I thought made an overt stand. Perhaps The White Album or Abbey Road, since there's some subversive political messages in those albums. The White Album especially is a guttural listening experience because it hits you from all angles, even though one might say it's technically a gathering of solo Beatle songs along with the band excursions. "Revolution" by itself is a stop and think kind of song that makes a stand.

But I came to Let it Be as my personal vote for an album that makes a stand, and here's the reasons why:

If there's any Beatles album that resounds of personal introspection outside of The White Album, it's Let it Be. Moreover, Let it Be teems with life lessons and advice for well-being, which is ironic since The Beatles were close to finished as a band by this time. I think of the idyllic reveries of just the opening song "Two of Us," a simple acoustic toe tapper that pleasantly dabbles in finding that right someone and you're on your way home together. For many people, finding this peaceful state of mind with another being is a hard task. I find the prospect inspirational, as I do "Across the Universe" (which I will always think of as "Bob's Song") because Lennon swoons about having a free mind to think about what is good and proper, that nothing's gonna change his world. Granted, Lennon had moments in life that are questionable, but I think we all go through troubled moments, and to me, "Across the Universe" is a declaration of personal independence, that a better life exists if you put some effort into it and stay your course, despite external temptations.

"I Me Mine" always makes smirk because it extends on Lennon's principles by commenting on the selfishness of society. But the most profound statement on Let it Be is obviously the title track.

The older I get, the more choked up I get when I hear this song. Perhaps because I had my own Maryian experience at a time I needed her the most this song really drives it home for me, but it's a universal message of spirituality that rings like a beacon call throughout the world, and surely the mass global population has taken this song to heart. Just watch how emotionally impacted the Russians are when Paul McCartney plays "Let it Be" in his Red Square concert on DVD. I found it hard not to bawl myself for these people, who were only getting to see a Beatle for the first time ever in the country only just a few years ago. That's just as intense as it gets. The power of music and this song rips the iron curtain to shreds; yeah, these were the evil commies were made to fear, crying and hugging each other as human beings in the streets of Moscow in the face of something pure and wholesome as "Let it Be."

Just the message to put your worries aside and let it be, or to bury your anger and let it be, to reach for something of a higher standard and let it be... That's as revolutionary as marching in the streets with a call for change.

I'm amused by how Let it Be realizes the power of its title track and throws in the whimsical lighter tunes "Maggie Mae" and "I've Got a Feeling," just to alleviate the intensity, before "The Long and Winding Road" plods majestically as a sad ode that was likely foreshadow to the ultimate breakup of The Beatles, even as it talks of breakup on a personal level with your true love. Never mind the orchestra controversy; I actually like the choice and wasn't all that impressed by the Let it Be Naked version, honestly. The overdubbing took a lot of heat, but I think it added to the sense of forlornness, all so we could better appreciate the final song "Get Back."

"Get Back" could've been the final Beatles song ever and it would've been a great way to go out, because it's upbeat, happy and full of hope, and as The Beatles tell you get back to where you once belonged, how you can not dig that? They tell you not to lose sight of yourself, that life is a struggle, but if you stay true to yourself, you'll get through it. That's taking their worldwide appeal and responsibly giving us all a message of positivity.

A lof of behind-the-scenes stuff can be discussed about Let it Be, but I choose to acknowledge it, then discard it from my mind, because in the midst of their own internal combustion, The Beatles kept it together, even with individual projects that were compiled on this album, and in the end made a statement piece of an album that remains immortal for many reasons, most of them good.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Albums That Make a Stand: U2 - War

I had a bit of a time trying to decide which made the more definitive stand from U2, The Unforgettable Fire or War, since both are worthy of consideration. "Pride (In the Name of Love)" from The Unforgettable Fire is a rare pop song that is filled with inner beauty and it triggers a gnawing sensation in the gut, while "4th of July" and "MLK" are also wistful moments that fingerpoints the end of U2's dedicated seriousness as political band, just as they found a way to endear themselves to all walks of life as The Beatles of this generation. They're still a socially conscious band, but naturally their focus has been more geared towards pop tunefulness than in their early years on October, War and The Unforgettable Fire.

It's kind of a shame that mainstream FM radio has choked the crap out of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "New Year's Day," because these songs are amongst U2's most important, so much that many listeners forget that War was a protest piece in its roots. When you hear "Sunday Bloody Sunday" used in advertising for football games and pro wrestling pay-per-views, the core message has been utterly lost.

The clattering din of War is the sound of frustrated Irish lads embittered by a period of their native country when the IRA was still mucking about, instigating random acts of violence that spilled blood on both home turf and in England. The senselessness on both sides and the adverse effect it had on innocent people is reflected in the angry and grief-stricken facade of the young boy on War's album cover, a statement piece unto itself. Larry Mullin's opening rat-a-tat drum snare strikes on "Sunday Bloody Sunday" blares its own beckon call, just as The Edge's forlorn melody chords spill a weepy cantata which Bono pants along to, "I heard the news today..." It demands your attention right off the bat, and while most audiences just sing along without giving thought to what "Sunday Bloody Sunday" is all about, there's no denying the infectiousness of this sad ode.

The imploring piano notes of "New Year's Day" creates a sense of moodiness amidst the punk melody that drives the song as Bono wails about a love so deep that separation can only make it stronger, all the while working to bring the components back together in order find the ultimate reason for being. That be looked upon as romantic, spiritual or political, depending on your view.

Much of War is an intense call for order amidst a climate of hatred and chaos, as heard on songs like "Seconds," "Like a Song," "The Refugee" and "Drowning Man," while the brisk and upbeat "Two Hearts Beat As One" serves as a hopeful and melodic plea for unity. After all, when War came out in 1983, not only was the battle between Ireland and England going on, but also the Berlin Wall, The Cold War and paranoia of a nuclear holocaust were top headliners of the day. As much as he would continue to do as U2's popularity grew, Bono lent his voice to the cause of humanity by crying foul at its atrocities and bargaining his band's music in exchange for a better world. In some ways, this U2 is most missed...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Albums That Make a Stand: Public Enemy - Fear of a Black Planet

Hey all, thanks for your continued support of PVAOF. I just did 13 hours at work last night and might equal it tonight depending on how it goes, so I've just enough time to keep this topic rolling and hopefully I'll be along to your blogs this week before I leave for the beach. I'll be needing it!

Malcolm X was a big jazz and be-bop fan, but I always wonder if he'd either lived or had his time in the eighties or nineties if Public Enemy wouldn't have been his soup du jour. I remember the escalation of popularity of Public Enemy came alongside the release of Spike Lee's Malcolm X movie, and I recall as a white man how much trepidation there was countrywide amongst the white population that the streets were teeming with anger and that an inevitable race riot, it not war was brewing. Malcolm X hats were en vogue all of a sudden and shouts of "Fight the Power!" rose from the underground onto MTV, which fueled the ghetto roar by giving it mass coverage.

I personally sat slack-jawed the first time I saw the "Fight the Power" video because number one, the integrity of Chuck D as a frontman was something to behold, while Flavor Flav was his doofy foil that was obviously a part of Public Enemy to keep the group's raging intensity from boiling over into a severe uprising. Just the background militants who marched and posed alongside Terminator X, who scratched his turntable like a freaking beast was intimidating enough. The message was clear; the black population wasn't going to stand for being second rate any longer. The whites heard it loud and clear, perhaps even more than its intended audience. Hence, Public Enemy issued the most important rap album ever recorded, Fear of a Black Planet.

Public Enemy's outrage lyrically sends shivers the first couple of times you listen to it. The more you absorb Chuck D's righteous bellowing, the more you realize that he was an underground messiah whom many accused of being a racist. In fact, that was part of Public Enemy's stigma as a whole; they were rogue rappers with something to say. It's a shame, because what's embraced in rap today, which are messages of power, pussy, bling, money, hatred, self-destruction and senseless violence against other people...this is all stuff Chuck D was protesting against as much as he was protesting the mistreatment of blacks on songs like "911 is a Joke," "Can't Do Nuttin' For Ya Man," "Anti-N Machine" and "Revolutionary Jam" from Fear of a Black Planet.

Chuck was also stewing about how the streets were a breeding ground for self-loathing triggered by a poor economic situation, which stemmed brother against brother in senseless killings and drive-bys. "Meet the G That Killed Me" and "Welcome to the Terrordome" are pleas for people to get their act together and quit the senseless violence on the streets. Unfortunately, it didn't work. "Who Stole the Soul" is the answer cry to why the economic plight of urban life continues today, even as we become more of a multicultural society. After all, bad economics are the real reason for crime and poverty, and as it beats people down, their collective soul goes into the trash. Of course, Chuck was also addressing the fact that gangbangers and O.G. rappers of the day were spoiling the good vibes that rap initially created with Grandmaster Flash and De La Soul.

Public Enemy was not afraid to take on any social issue. "Burn Hollywood Burn" is self-explanatory, but its indictment of racism in Tinseltown didn't go left unheeded. Perhaps it's a blunt attempt to rectify errors of the past, but even television and movies have made the effort to be more multicultural in response. That's social change at its best. "Pollywanacracka" is perhaps the most venomous track on Fear of a Black Planet with its dismissal of biracial birthing, but there's no stopping that now. With a more enlightened society comes new changes to the species.

The utter sound of Fear of a Black Planet, even without the powerful messages, is something to behold. I tried drumming along to Terminator X one night and he blew my ass away. Fear of a Black Planet is a fierce, fast and raging tempest of an album musically as much as it is a radical call to arms. Whites were right to be afraid. Now they can be seen balding in their Jags blaring today's pimp rap that doesn't have one iota of the integrity of Public Enemy or even Ice T for that matter. Who stole the soul, indeed...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Albums That Make a Stand: Bad Brains - Rock for Light

In my world, the Bad Brains are one of the most important bands that ever breathed life into music. These guys are fearless for two reasons. One, they created a radical sound in punk that would be altered from the traditional three chord rebellion of The Ramones, The Stooges and the Pistols, ushering in what would become known as hardcore. Moreover, as Rastafarians, the Bad Brains not only created a blistering style of shred, they also fused slow, wistful reggae jams in between their maniacally paced punk thrash. The effect on the listener is nothing short of a blissful mind rape.

Two, the Bad Brains, without consciously doing it, created a countercultural revolution in the underground with their brutally honest (and at time venomous) lyrics, something they paid for while in their native DC. Their diatribes, which focused on social change, was far too radical for their time in the late seventies, and the Bad Brains felt the need to relocate to New York City in the face of rejection from such a political hotbed as DC. It's a shame, because eventually Minor Threat, Government Issue, Dag Nasty and others comprising the famed DC hardcore scene were given respect for their views, while the Bad Brains paid a price for theirs beforehand. Their experience prompted one of their most famous songs "Banned in DC," which appears on many Bad Brains early retrospectives, but none more feverish than on Rock for Light.

Though I Against I is Bad Brains' universally agreed masterpiece (an album that literally drove me to my knees), Rock for Light is as much--if not more so--a spiritual cleansing to the ears and mind, and while some people are put off by the jacknife pace of the quick-tempoed songs such as "Attitude," "How Low Can a Punk Get" or "F.V.K. (Fearless Vampire Killers)," the primitive pounding of these songs flog you as much as they heal you, and in-between the zany velocity of Rock for Light are pace-slowing reggae songs "Rally Round Jah Throne," "The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth" and "I and I Survive." If you've never heard Rock for Light, you won't be the same, I assure you. Never have I heard such purity between aggression and sedation, and I think the combination is pointed, because you soak up the messages, that this can be a better world if you put some thought into your life and act accordingly. That's all the Bad Brains ever wanted to achieve, in my opinion. The rest came accidentally.

If you can't feel your soul lift by the soaring choruses of "Sailin' On" or if you can't get down with what H.R. is saying by declaring a right to live his life the way he sees fit, so he reads the bible and praises Jah for his daily existence on "Coptic Times," well, that's your burden. They plead for peace and love and an end to war and violence on the title cut, and there are plenty who are hardened to this message, but when the white man has the traditional view of Rastafarians as being cutthroat bigots, hearing this message from the Bad Brains says that the white man's history book has yet another slanted and screwed-up chapter.

At the very least, the Bad Brains want you to stop, pause and think a minute when H.R. shrieks "Heyyyyyyy we got the P.M.A.!" on "Attitude." This stands for "positive mental attitude." No shrink can give you this kind of therapy.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Albums That Make a Stand: Steppenwolf - Monster

"America, where are you now? Don't you care about your sons and daughters? Don't you know we need you now, we can't fight alone against the monster!"

Jesus, how much more blunt does it have to be? If you care one iota about injustice and the welfare of your country at-large, how can this not choke you up, if not make you want to stand on the pedestal for at least a few seconds to say what you've got to say?

Steppenwolf not only stepped on the pedestal, they frigging platformed as sardonically as anyone in rock history has ever done with their wistful protest album Monster.

It's enough that "Monster/Suicide/America" is one of the greatest rock epic songs ever conceived, but the fact that it serves as a full-fledged American history lesson with a biting edge just puts into a class of its own. Iron Maiden has "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Yes has "Roundabout," but Steppenwolf's epic is the most thought-provoking nine-minute odyssey that rocks as much as it stirs up a hornet's nest in the midst of the Vietnam era.

The spirit of social unrest that existed in 1969 is captured in earnest on Monster, and though there's been no draft since Vietnam, there's still an endearment to "Draft Register," which Steppenwolf luxuriates with heavy percussion and xylophone to accent their support of the draft dodgers, citing them as heroes of a different cause, the cause of humanity.

Other songs like the hammering rock ode "Move Over" that was a bit of hit for them, and "Fag" allows John Kay and his band to spew venomously and indict American society that was caught up in the middle of a collective civil rights riot, be it racial equality, sex equality or just equality amongst our foreign brothers and sisters. Steppenwolf had the uncanny ability to be on the soldiers' side while at the same time, point out that the government was exploiting their loyalty for criminal goals. Does that ring familiar in 2007?

In that manner, Monster is a timeless album, because it gave warnings like a lot of sixties protest music, that unfortunately have gone unheeded in a modern society that is more lost now than it ever was.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

CD Shelf Cleanup Continues

Okay, it's been a couple of weeks, so here's a nice little batch to bang out. Yes, we're still in the A's...

Armageddon Over Wacken 2004 - I've always wanted to attend the legendary Wacken festival in Europe since its inception. The annual three-day festival is considered the ultimate Mecca of metal as headbanging pilgrims flock from all around the world to gather together and celebrate three days of the heavy stuff, ranging from the most extreme to the rockingest of the rockers. What's special about Wacken is that it bands together the elite with the unknowns onstage, giving everyone a shot at metal immortality. This three disc set is a terrific overview of 2004's gathering that included Doro Pesch, Saxon, Children of Bodom, Dio, Anthrax, Ektomorf, Motorhead, Mayhem, Cathedral, Helloween, Nevermore, Destruction, Death Angel, Paragon, Supersoma, Gutbucket and Zodiac Mindwarp. Definitely worthy of inclusion as a time capsule of old timers meet young 'uns in one of metal's most respected venues. Worth Keeping

Armored Saint - March of the Saint - Metal Mark was right to flag me for the absence of Armored Saint from my collection. I have this, Delirious Nomad and Raising Fear on cassette, but honestly, they're buried in a closet since I never listen to tapes anymore. So this is a most welcome homecoming on CD. The only thing that struck me upon hearing it again after a couple of years is how it doesn't carry the same thunder as it did back in 1984. It's a terrific metal album and obviously the cover is one of metal's absolute greatest, but I was thinking about how today's metal resurrection has kind of stolen the might and power of this album. Still, it's a great listen for old school metalheads and for newbies who want to learn what good American power metal sounded like in the eighties. I remember the Saint having a bitch of a time surviving in LA amidst all of the hard rock and glam bands. Definitely a must. Indispensable

Asguard - Dreamslave - This Russian black metal band came a long way on this 2005 release. While Dreamslave is probably less hardcore than black metal purists would have them from their previous work, this album takes Asguard to the next level musically. The only detriment to the album is some corny synths that lack elegance and triumph. The stringed rhythm section carries that load fines without them. Worth Keeping

As I Lay Dying - Frail Words Collapse - I remember buying this album just because it sounded cool and it was a Metal Blade release, who I've come to trust for the most part as a reliable metal label. In 2003, As I Lay Dying was far more fierce than what they've become now, and Frail Words Collapse is a brutal album that only suffers from an overload of breakdowns. In 2003, however, this wasn't so much of a plague, so it sounded very fresh for its time. The band would go on to broaden their sound on their breakthrough album Shadows Are Security. Worth Keeping

As I Lay Dying - Shadows Are Security - I wasn't sure what to expect when Metal Blade sent me this for review. I knew the reports were that As I Lay Dying was gathering a huge fan base and were looking to expand on their metalcore schisms with more harmony amidst the dischord. That's exactly what they produced on Shadows Are Security. As much as this album has made the band a Hot Topic staple, there's no denying that the soaring clean vocals amidst the hard growling endears As I Lay Dying to the youth, but moreover, the band has learned to be more tuneful amidst their aggression and a handful of songs on this album are rather sterling. While their prototype has been recycled by hundreds of their peers, this is still mostly a standout album (or sellout, depending on your view). Worth Keeping

Asia - Asia - I have to admit a certain fondness for this album. It's as good as eighties arena rock gets, and while there's a certain cheese element to Asia, there's no denying that "Heat of the Moment" is rather infectious, as is "Only Time Will Tell." By no means is this important music; it's merely a good way to reminisce over youth and good times, and how many of us trying to doodle their awesome album cover. Worth Keeping

Asia - Alpha - Where the first Asia album is a great bit of nostalgia worth revisiting, their sophomore album Alpha is a huge disappointment. I remember the big marketing push behind Alpha, and they certainly struck gold a second time in the album cover department, but let's face it; Alpha is a complete bore! Not quite fully replicating the power of their debut singles with "Don't Cry," there's not much else to get excited about Alpha. This album is self-indulgent and it plods along for the band, not the listener. The Tribe Has Spoken, it's Time For You to Go.

Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound - Ekranoplan - Let me copy my AMP magazine review for this one: "I am rather digging this label (Tee Pee Records); first, the wildly impressive TITAN with their senses-assaulting sludge-prog, and now this trio of trippy distortion explorers from San Francisco that brings to the table elements of sixties garage and mod rock along with more contemporary alt rock like DINOSAUR, JR., BLUR and BECK with a tendency towards breezy Neil Young-like lost in translation swoons as on “The Corner Zombies” and “A Bourbon for Rudy.” While this reverberation is not wholly metal, there is plenty of metallic bliss beneath the hazy echoes that call up laidback psychedelia (subliminally like BIG BROTHER AND THE HOLDING COMPANY) along with weighty amplitude reflected on “Occult Roots” and “Ellen Koray.” Real hepcat heaviness hovering here…"
Worth Keeping

At the Drive-In - Relationship of Command - This album is worth having if you're a fan of Mars Volta or Sparta, since this the breaking ground for both bands. It shows more of a hint of what brilliance was to come in Mars Volta, though it isn't not quite as psychedelic and quadrophonic. Still, this album is smart and savvy and full of energy and techincal know-how that is a history lesson unto itself. For real music heads, this one's a must. Worth Keeping

Atomic Rooster - Nice 'n Greasy - Real downhome blues rock band that seldom gets mentioned anymore. Not as bombastic as their name implies, but it is certainly a greasy listen, right out of the frying pan. Check it out. Worth Keeping

Friday, April 20, 2007

What's Coming Up and Joe Lally's There to Here

First, I'm going to have a busy weekend coming up, but I'm going to try and slog through some CD Shelf Cleanup since that's been overdue. But coming up next week is a little topic I came up with called "Albums That Make a Stand." I'm always really attuned to musicians and albums filled with social consciousness or even outright protest. Sometimes art, writing and music gets you riled up for the right reasons, and this is what I want to dabble with here, since there are plenty of legitimate albums that tried to make some sort of stand with their being. As a preview, I can tell you that I spun Steppenwolf's Monster repeatedly yesterday (along with Motorhead's Another Perfect Day) and this may be the ultimate protest album, since it's amazing how the lyrics fit today's climate of turmoil as readily as they did the Vietnam era in which they were written.

As a sort of warm-up for "Albums That Make a Stand," I want to talk briefly about Joe Lally's There to Here album.

Joe Lally is the former bassist of Fugazi and Bob Vinyl and I caught his opening gig in was for The Melvins, wasn't it, Bob? I just remember that Lally was amazing in his one-man-bass show versus Joe Preston's uninspired solo shot as Thrones, which Preston merely played his thundering bass to laptop tracks, ho-hum. I thought Preston was killer as a part of High On Fire, who I caught opening for Every Time I Die, but Thrones? Nuh uh, sad to say. That set might've been as opener for Boris, I believe.

Lally's set, on the other hand, was full of integrity and passion and I recall getting a little pissed because a number of posers at the show were idly chatting and goofing off during Lally's performance, because he had a lot to say. Frankly, it's not easy to carry a set by yourself, though Bob and I can attest at the Holly Golightly show that one dude can juggle an entire band at once. Lally was more than capable in his own right just by simply plucking basic harmonies from his bass while weaving lyrical vibes I was personally captivated by. It reminded me of some of the open mikes I used to read at, though this was a grander scale.

Lally performed much of his There to Here album, which made me happy upon hearing the recorded product that includes guest spots by Ian MacKaye and Scott "Wino" Weinrich, amongst others. Just to keep a familial DC overtone to the project, There to Here comes to us via the much-lauded Dischord Records label, who I'm glad to see has invested themselves into Lally's work.

The album is mostly Lally's bass (with random guitar lines and occasional drumming) and his low-key drawls that sometimes come off like chanting like on "Sons and Daughters" and his mantra "the word is not the thing" that generate aural responses that protest war and America's self-inflated egotism as a whole. In fact, There to Here is one long indictment that Lally delivers in a reserved candor instead of vehemently blaring his rhetoric. In this regard, it forces you to pay attention to his messages, which call for social change. You might say Lally picks up where Fugazi left off, which of course picked up where Minor Threat left off and Rites of Spring before them. Lest we not forget that the DC suburbs hold some of underground music's most important voices, and Lally, in his quiet though pointed demeanor, establishes himself in the same manner.

Lally's voice is relaxed though no less full of righteous venom (check out the almost blase way he says "fuck you" at the end of "Message From Earth"), and this is why There to Here comes off sounding sometimes like an alt punk record, sometimes like a folksy protest album and also a free-spirited funk jam. In the end, There to Here is a bare-bones testimonial into Joe Lally's personal introspection and all he seems intent on is to have you simply hear him out. Too bad those selfish pricks in the audience were more concerned over who was buying their next round of drinks instead of paying attention to Lally's warnings that we will one day have to collectively atone for our self-absorbed actions on "All Must Pay." There's a sad irony in that, don't you think?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Do You Have Any Life Regrets?

I'm going to be 37 in a month, which means I'm one step closer to midlife, and I think about the lives that were cut short at Virginia Tech this week and how so many young people were robbed of thieir dreams, much less their existence, so it's hard for me to bellyache about potential life regrets in my microcosm, but I think more and more it's becoming natural to think about it, especially when you still have the gift of changing your life or doing something you've wanted to do but never did.

I don't know about anyone else, but sometimes I wonder what would've happened if life had been different, if I'd followed different impulses, if I'd made different choices or if I'd just had the stones to pursue other avenues. I'm not talking about the random feeling one gets when they grow close to someone as a friend, particularly of the opposite sex and you wonder quietly if your life would've been different had you hooked up with that person. It's not something to obsess about since I have a strong marriage and we're slowly getting onto the same page in what we want out of our lives, but it's sometimes hard not to momentarily imagine your life in a different situation, and therein lies the recollection of choices you've made and little forks in the road that you may or may not have thought to yourself, "Damn, I really regret not doing that," or "If I'd just followed my instincts on this, my life would've been so much different."

Life's path can be such a narrow spiral, like inside of this lighthouse in Havre de Grace, Maryland. Photo copyright (c) 2006 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

I really can't complain about my life at this point. I have a home, a wife, two cats, a loving family, a hell of a lot more friends than I sometimes realize until I go back and mentally count them and realize I might as well stop counting. I'm in a job where my sense of self worth is finally where it should be, and of course there's my writing life, which grows incrementally every day. When I sometimes think I should tone my music writing gigs down severely, new opportunities crop up and I have no choice but to pursue them, partially out of fear of a life regret. I realize that life is so short that you should act on a lot of what is presented to you, while discriminately rejecting other things that lead to a life of self-destruction.

If I have any life regrets to this point, one of the biggest is not having a band. The only shot I had at a band was not really a band since we never did get anything into serious order, but there were songs written and we were just learning our instruments, and apparently there was a lot of impatience to make something happen. I never daydreamed about being in a world-famous band, just a grimy little punk band that was part of a small scene with the opportunity to drive out, see America, maybe have the chance to influence a young mind with our words and aggression. I sometimes wished I'd been in a band of underground cultural importance like the Bad Brains, but their power came from not setting out to change the world; they did it subtly. If it's a conscious effort, more often than not, it's contrived.

I also regret being too naive to think I'd be a full-time writer by this point, and by now we would've already had our first child. I'm not sure if the fact that we waited awhile contributed to my wife's infertility, but I know a lot of Gen X'ers who can't get pregnant or have to struggle with in vitro and the whole painful process of planned parenthood, and the common denominator is that we all wanted to establish our careers before settling down. I think I pissed away some valuable time in lower-paying title companies that I gave my blood and soul to, working 13 years of long hours and fruitless compensation, in the evenings and weekends struggling to push my writing on a market that didn't want it at the time. I now have the best of both worlds and I'm very grateful, but the cost I've paid to get this point may be a child in our life. This is why we have gone through the process of turning our lives upside down for a possible foster-to-adopt situation, and now we're racing the bullet to try and get our lives and home into order so we can possibly accept a child into our home and begin the parenting process later than the average bear.

It was so much I began shuffling our DVD collection around last night so that all of our family-oriented DVDs are banded together. I've gone out and bought Thomas and other kids' DVDs to prepare for the young life that may enter our lives, and I've begun to scrutinize my CD collection a little harder, realizing that I'm going to have to strictly monitor what's being listened to at certain times, because there's music I refuse to part with that may be questionable in influence to a young mind. I've begun to think like a parent and frankly, I'm scared. If we were to raise a child whose life was destroyed by a psychopath such as this past Monday, I don't know how I could go on from there. My heart goes out to the parents of those people who lost their lives, and I know that as hard as we've worked to try and bring a child into our house, and knowing that we've had to sacrifice much and let ourselves be humiliated before an agency because we cannot conceive a child on our own, and trying to snuff down the hatred that biological parents don't have to go through such embarassing procedures as a penalty, then to lose that child you've struggled so hard to have... I can't even begin to think about it.

So anyway, I do think on things from time-to-time about regretting certain life choices. I mean, if I had the guts, I would've followed up the burning fire inside of me to move to New York City. I almost did when I was laid off in May, 2005, and I look back and wonder what would've happened if I did move there. Would I be worse off or better? I know I'm so close to my family here in Maryland that moving is not really an option at the moment, and now my wife finally has a career she's happy about, and I'm beginning to define my life by terms I find acceptable, so who knows... We're going to try and go back up to NYC in May, and I know I'll get that hunger once again; I always do. Will I feel regret for not moving there, though? Time will tell.

What about you all?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

CD Shelf Clean-Up Instant Rejection: Mindless Self-Indulgence - You'll Rebel to Anything

I think we all have those moments of "What the fuck was I thinking?" I also think we sometimes talk ourselves into thinking we're cooler than the average schmuck if we embrace something totally off-the-wall, particularly if the underground press talks it up or if it's sitting as a highlighted feature in the listening booth or just because we find humor in an otherwise dead-on album title called You'll Rebel to Anything.

I remember exactly when I bought this album. I had just covered the Testament reunion in Springfield, Virginia and as I'd left my wife at the hotel to do as she wished while I did the gig, she told me she'd scouted a Tower Records in her travels--before they went under, of course.

The following morning we got up, checked out and dropped in at Tower and I think we spent a good two hours tooling around the store and for whatever reason, I kept going back to this dumb album, cueing it up in the listening booth and because I was tripping on the jacknifed electronic beats and the jagged guitar strums, I somehow thought this was cool, perhaps a little more chaotic than Lords of Acid, who I sometimes just can't get enough of. I mean, "Shut Me Up" is kinda peppy and "Stupid MF" made me laugh. The whole album is perversely nuts and full of lunatic voices and screwball song arrangements. I got the joke; you will rebel to anything, so says Mindless Self Indulgence. Point well-made, but again...what was I thinking?

Then there was that ridiculously nuts cover of Rush's "Tom Sawyer" that I thought was avant guarde and for some reason it closed the deal for me. What a hip little music fan, thought I.

Well, ever since I bought this annoying motherfucker, I've only heard a few of the reasons I thought this was a badass album. I know there's some valid art in here as I've outlined earlier, but what horrible vocals! Jesus, this is one schizophrenic ball of ersatz that just plucks my goddamned nerves, regardless if that's the project's intent or not. Bugger off, already...

Enough is enough, so I'm leaping forward into the M's for one instant jury decision, and the jury finds this album guilty of being more obnoxious than an office worker on a power trip who has no title to fall upon. Either case, I have no time interest in their sqwawking; it's all static to my ears.

The Tribe Has Spoken, It's Time For You to Go

Monday, April 16, 2007

You're Held at Gunpoint, Pick One of These Stinkers

Hypothetical question...

You're tied up and held up at gunpoint by a down-and-out record exec who can't give his overpressed slabs of shit away, so he's resorted to violence and you, having the good taste that you do, would never buy any of this dreck. Unfortunately, your life isn't worth getting snuffed over not taking one of the following pieces of crud into your collection, thus you're in a rut. So what's it gonna be....

New Kids on the Block - Hangin' Tough

Paris Hilton - Paris

Metallica - St. Anger

Limp Bizkit - Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water

Taylor Hicks - Taylor Hicks

Me, I'd have no choice but to go with Metallica, mad as I've been at them for years. Saw II is the only thing I've really enjoyed a New Kid in, I'm almost embarassed to say I enjoyed Limp live, but I could play a game of Tron with their CDs, Paris is sexy but full of her usual egotistical self to think she deserves a recording contract just because she blew her way to fame...who else cheered when she got killed in House of Wax? Taylor Hicks? To think a young girl I know is in love with him. I could see my aunt, maybe...your grandmother, perhaps...the femme Vegas barflies who throw their hotel keys at Wayne Newtorn, most definitely...

Man, this even hurts me to decide...

Saturday, April 14, 2007

What Album is So Good You Can't Stop Playing it Right Now?

For me, that would be the new Moonsorrow album V: Havitetty. This album consists of two songs, half hour apiece and it covers all territories from progressive to folk to power metal to black metal. The songwriting on these two opuses is breathtaking and I can't stop listening, as it took much effort to pry me away from Year of Desolation.

Here's some other ones outside of Year of Desolation:

Middian - Age Eternal
Dew Scented - Incinerated
JJ Grey & Mofro - Country Ghetto
Clutch - From Beale Street to Oblivion
Killing Joke - Inside Extremities, Mixes, Rehearsals and Live
The Fratellis - Costello Music
Black 'n Blue - Rarities

So what album is so good in your world you can't stop playing it right now?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Year of Desolation review for Hails & Horns magazine

Back from the dead, friends, and trying to get caught up as always...I sound like a broken record, don't I? This is a review of one of the best thrash albums I've heard out this generation of metal bands. I was beginning to give up hope, honestly...

Prosthetic Records

Thrash albums used to be such an event in the eighties, mostly out of backlash to the overkill cash-cowism of mainstream hard rock. When an ANTHRAX, SLAYER, TESTAMENT or OVERKILL album dropped, everyone took notice and most of the time the goods were delivered. Of course, the real underground thrash could be found in DEATH, NUCLEAR ASSAULT and DARK ANGEL…ah, what glorious times those were… While there’s certainly plenty of good thrash gyrating out there in today’s metal underground, it’s getting almost dime a dozen, and sorry, but there’s very little character to the sound anymore.

I’m pleased to hear that Indianapolis’ YEAR OF DESOLATION has made the thrash album an event again. Holy smokes, is this one for the scene to get around! With as much to offer as their city accomplices, DEMIRICOUS, YEAR OF DESOLATION expels every ounce of talent they can peel from their rapid wrists, be it the wicked strumming of Josh Kappel and John Hehman’s astute guitars or the vicious snare pounding of drummer Steve Spitzbart (that just sounds thrash, doesn’t it?). Even the throat rasps of Chad Zimmerman are executed with enough care that you can decipher much of what he’s saying, even as his rhythm section blows dust circles around his choked esophagus.

At every turn does this album entertain, be it the jaw-dropping guitar shredding that sing literal sirens over the thrash tempos (the intro to “The Economy of Excess” being a fine example), or the way “Forged in the Flames of Malcontent” or “539” utilize their tricky devices to create an ever-shifting gala of aggression and grandeur. Using just enough contemporary breakdowns to keep their momentum (instead of halting it like everyone else cheaply does), YEAR OF DESOLATION has learned the fine art of merging traditional metal with old fashioned thrash, Scandinavian death metal and modern American agro rhythms. This is exemplary work deserving of your immediate attention. As I said, Year of Desolation is a thrash event…

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Be Back Shortly...

Hola, gang, been sick the past few days and am playing catch-up to beat the band...which I think is probably one of the weirdest metaphors ever conceived... Thanks for your comments to Battle of the Bonds, and I'll have more fun and games shortly, as well as visits to everyone's blogs...



Friday, April 06, 2007

Battle of the Bonds: # 1 Sean Connery in Goldfinger

"Sean Connery is the only James Bond that matters," my stepfather told me in the early eighties when he sat me down and introduced me to Goldfinger, a film that for me--as well as a hell of a lot of people--is still the measure to beat as far as action and espionage films go, and it's pretty elementary and widely-regarded that Sean Connery remains the quintessential James Bond for the ages.

Perhaps it's because he's the most masculine Bond, in terms of looks, voice, machismo and overall bad-assness, which is why it was even more fun to see an older Sean Connery play Indiana Jones' father in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. There was still a little bit of James Bond in Connery there, as there was in Finding Forrester, a great movie for any author to learn from. Connery's hermit character still radiates the proud and cocky James Bond he carried so well in the sixties and even in his Thunderball redux in the mid-eighties Never Say Never Again.

I personally think it's that wide-eyed glare of Connery's that makes the ladies melt and the adversaries pause before taking action. Even today, nobody says "The name's Bond...James Bond" with such aplomb, and I'm sure it was painful for the production team of the series to lose Sean Connery after such memorable action adventures as Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice and of course Goldfinger.

Goldfinger has so much going for it it's almost too much to bear in one sitting. Number one, it has Connery. From the opening poolside sequence when British intelligence tracks him down to interrupt his vacation, we see James Bond as the ultimate playboy, which for years since, has made many green-eyed envious. The fact that Bond smacks his date in the ass as he dismisses her perhaps triggers a wanton lust from viewers. I can imagine a lot of guys wishing--especially in today's fair equal society--they could get away with such a stunt, much less avoid getting jacked on the spot for such arrogance. I've also heard women take both sides of this issue, that one, Connery is an incredible pig, and two, others have playfully joked that they wish they'd been that girl in the notorious scene. Personally, I think about how daring that was to show on film for 1964. Rock 'n roll and be-bop music had done a lot to strip down some of the conservative moral fabric of the fifties, and James Bond ran like hell with the ball. He is both conservative and liberal, which is why both side of the political fence find him irresistible. I think only Timothy Dalton and George Lazenby could do what Connery did, as far appealing to both sanctions.

Goldfinger has the best villain, a hedonistic megalomaniac whose dumpy features make him look more like an oafish rich boy with a bad reputation for losing. Hop in the sack with his girlfriend and see how he takes it. I think Shirley Eaton as Jill Masterston still gets the most memorable Bond Girl award, though her stay is only limited. Seriously, didn't you think you'd momentarily stumbled upon a horror flick when you saw Masterson on that bed, dead and painted gold?

Goldfinger has the greatest henchman of all-time, Oddjob, whose girth is just as formidable as his bowler derby with the razor brim. Harold Sakata's low-key performance makes Oddjob the most fearsome underling on film, so much you could imagine him starting his own crime cartel and doing well for awhile. The minute he whips his derby and decaptitates the statue of Venus after Bond beats Goldfinger at golf on strict-rules technicality, the symbolic gesture of ugliness destroying beauty is not left on us as viewers. Goldfinger is beyond ugly; his callousness and braggadocio supersedes James Bond's, which is why you stick behind Connery and can't wait for him to kick Goldfinger's ass!

Goldfinger also has the notorious Pussy Galore, and you have to wonder how squeamish the film rating's board was in letting this go with only a PG, which admittedly, carried more weight in the sixties and seventies than it does now. Honor Blackman as Pussy is second only to Ursula Andress as sexiest Bond Girl of all-time, at least in my opinion. I also like how she makes Bond work a little harder at charming her into her pants, and even more so that you know she's going to run like hell from the whole thing, despite sticking around with Bond at the film's end. Pussy is fierce, independent, and everything that might've been eroded for women's rights by Connery's ass smack is restored by the strength of Pussy Galore. If Ian Fleming wanted to, he could easily have written a story about Pussy becoming Bond's adversary in another story arc, and I'd be all over it.

As Bond thwarts Goldfinger's plot to steal gold from Fort Knox for future schemes, despite a lengthy time spent as his enemy's capturee, Connery has already imprinted in our minds how slick he is under pressure in what I consider to be the ultimate predicament ever put upon a film hero; just the suggestion of what could happen to 007 with that laser as it slowly cuts up towards his genitals, and that Bond enough presence of mind to talk Goldfinger out of bisecting him...that's a classic.

In the end, Sean Connery's undeniable confidence, sophisticated looks and a slimy charm, not to mention a willingness to put himself in front of the camera for many fights and stunts endears him to most James Bond fans as the greatest Bond of all-time.

Hope you enjoyed this week's Battle of the Bonds. I personally had a blast with it, since it gave me a little respite in-between my assignments. When all is said and done, James Bond is simple escapist fantasy that shouldn't be taken seriously in the least. He sets a mark for certain would-be hustlers and daydreamist crime fighters, but in all, James Bond's legacy--aside from jetsetting all of us around the globe with him--is to provide an antihero that we find fascinating, despite his many inherent character flaws. Guess we're all not so unlike James Bond in that respect...

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Battle of the Bonds: # 2 Daniel Craig in Casino Royale

On his first attempt at the role, Daniel Craig nearly goes to the head of the class in his debut film, a redux of Ian Fleming's classic Casino Royale. This is actually the third time an adaptation of Casino Royale has been produced, the first being t.v. version in 1954 and then a parody film in 1967.

The 2006 Casino Royale takes itself dead seriously and the film is intended to bring us back to the beginning of James Bond's career, right as he first gets licensed as an M16 agent. Given that it's set in the present day, however, instead of painfully being reconstructed as a period piece, I'm perfectly content to think that Daniel Craig's James Bond is the introduction of a new Bond...afer all, he plays up the fact that Bonds have a short life expectancy, and frankly, it would pliably explain why there are six different Bonds. When you surrender your identity to become a 007, you or I could be James Bond if we qualified.

Craig, out the gate, establishes himself in the role with a stylish black and white flashback sequence that introduces us to the new 007 in noirish fashion. It is an ugly and violent opening that sets the tone of Casino Royale in savory fashion. Already you know Daniel Craig isn't going to stomach a script filled with cheap one-liners, nor is he going to settle for a stand-in more than is absolutely necessary. Craig is the most physical Bond in the whole series, and his dark interpretation scrubs clean all that you know about the character in previous outings.

Even the trademark Bond stalk, swing and fire opening sequence that is the staple of every film gets a facelift of sorts. Instead of the bouncing target flashing red, this time it actually drips blood and then Chris Cornell delivers a terrific Bond theme "You Know My Name." I had some friends over while watching Casino Royale for the second time and the comment was made that there was no girl in the otherwise impressive theme animation. Funny, I didn't even notice when I saw it in the movies. I applaud it, because that means the entire crew put a little extra effort into making a wholly unique James Bond, one we've yet to see, even with his exaltedness, Sean Connery.

Instantly Casino Royale goes for the jugular with an incredible foot chase scene as Bond uses some leg muscle to hoof down a bomb making footrunner named Mallaka (Sebastien Foucan) with astonishing Jackie Chan-like agility. Despite the fact that the construction crew surrounding Bond and his target seem to keep on working despite the explosive fighting, wrecking and detonations is a real scream, the action is so intense you allot for the naivete.

Craig's 007 displays his human side by making mistakes despite his efforts to prove himself. He kills the footrunner, which M chastises Bond for, and the illustrious Judi Dench makes her spin on M even more frigid. Craig displays perhaps even more ingenuity by learning her real identity and breaking into her house for a private meeting, which she threatens to kill him for. I love this no-bullshit exchange instead of the traditional pussyfooting between Bond and his superiors that is supposed to radiate Bond as the ultimate rebel. Craig's rebelliousness comes out of practicality and the mere folly of inexperience, despite his capable talent as an M16. Also interesting is how Dench, despite her forcefulness, becomes a parental figure to the loose cannon Bond in this film, again eroding her more starchy predecessor in the role. Yes, there's humanity even in the secret service.

Basically Casino Royale cashes in on the suddenly wild Texas Hold 'Em poker craze that Americans especially can't seem to get enough of. When a would-be terrorist named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelson) joins a high-stakes tournament to win the big payout to supplement his fiendish plots--not to mention paying back money owed to underground cutthroats--Bond is dispatched to Montenegro (after another impressive chasedown of two of Le Chiffre's terrorist underlings, the second being a fun scrum at an airport) to join the tournament to prevent Le Chiffre from winning.

Sent to pose as his girlfriend is Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), who first resists Bond's charms, not that Craig pours it on too thick. Despite seducing Solange Dimitrios into coughing up information about her husband, James Bond leaves her high and dry instead of consummating the tryst. Craig's obsession to his mission makes him a more focused and determind Bond, and frankly, I liked the unpredictability factor here. The fact that yes, he's quite interested in Vesper, but she finds him arrogant and repulsive, makes it more believable that Bond will eventually fall for her--and hard. Part of the silliness of James Bond throughout the years is that he lets his dick do the thinking. Whatever hottie strolls across his path becomes immediate lust in Bond films of the past--particularly with Roger Moore. Craig's struggle between love and duty puts a lot more respectability into things.

Le Chiffre has a tendency to tear up blood from an old eye wound that isn't fully explained, and he is perhaps the most lascivious Bond villain in years. When he nearly cleans Bond out of the tournament altogether due to Bond's overzealousness, he tries to poison 007 and nearly succeeds, though it is Vesper who saves the day. After James Bond re-enters the tournament on the remaining stakes of an undercover American CIA agent, he has figured out Le Chiffre's poker face and beats him.

Le Chiffre exacts a most painful revenge upon Bond--particularly if you're a male--and the fact that Daniel Craig isn't too pretty to bleed all throughout Casino Royale gives him a crying shot at nearly usurping the honor of Supreme Bond. Not quite, though. What Craig really gets points for, however, is for selling us a for-once believeable romance with Eva Green, and he almost tricks you into thinking this is James Bond's final farewell as he's ready to give it all up in exchange for love. Craig's Bond is the most pained and self-tortured Bond of all six actors, and when it turns out that Vesper has deceived him, he goes deeper than a brooding, morose and sharply talented agent; he gets butt-ugly, going so far as to call Vesper a bitch despite the fact that she sacrifices herself for him at the end and had made sacrifices previously, despite the fact she secretly had a boyfriend that Le Chiffre was holding hostage.

Everyone has made a big deal about the scene in the casino when Bond is asked if he wants his martini shaken and not stirred and he sharply retorts "Does it look like I care?" Some feel this is a rejection of James Bond as a whole, while I maintain that is the introduction of a new Bond and a new world order of sorts to the character. This Bond is more headstrong to his task and because he's still wet behind the ears, he's yet to concern himself over the "perks" of being a 007. Bravo to that, I say... Besides, Craig delivers the mandatory "Bond...James Bond" introduction, this time at the film's end, which gives us a hint that Craig has now come into his own in the role.

I'm really looking forward to Bond 22 next year since Craig will be resuming the role of James Bond. Will he still be dark, will he be just as physical as in Casino Royale? Or will he surrender to the peer pressure to be a dickswinger with a snub-nosed pistol? Does anyone else see the sexual irony in the fact that Bond is traditionally posed with a small barreled gun (at least Craig gets a longer gun with a silencer on the movie poster above, and his assualt rifle at the end of Casino Royale is almost a cannon), but overcompensates, so to speak, by bedding everything in sight? Here's hoping Daniel Craig doesn't have to stoop so low...

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Battle of the Bonds: # 3 Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day

I deliberately chose Die Another Day for Pierce Brosnan, despite my favorite of his James Bond films being Tomorrow Never Dies. I wanted a challenge to what I'd already conceived in my mind in this battle of the Bonds gauging through Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough and even Goldeneye, for that matter. The sheer bravado of Brosnan's tank chase in Goldeneye already elevates him on the list.

Pierce Brosnan came into the role of James Bond on Goldeneye, despite the fact Timothy Dalton was under contract for three movies. Dalton's contract expired in 1994 as script writer Michael France couldn't get something into order in time, thus Dalton exited on his own accord, thus leaving the door open for Brosnan.

As mentioned in yesterday's writeup of For Your Eyes Only, Brosnan's link to 007 was already established before he slinked into the tuxedo. Brosnan was married to Cassandra Harris, a brief fling for Roger Moore's Bond, and even more interesting is that Pierce Brosnan was originally looked upon to take the role after Moore departed, however Brosnan was still working on the television series Remington Steele. He finally got his chance in 1994 and cut four mostly solid films.

Before Daniel Craig came along in 2006, I firmly vowed that Pierce Brosnan was the best Bond since Sean Connery, and in some ways, Brosnan is a wholly complete Bond. He has the look, the stature, the hawk eyes, the attitude, an ability to be debonair and mildly chauvenistic (versus the nauseating and frequently sleazy chauvenism of Roger Moore and the highly chauvenistic but sublty cheeky Conner), and by the time Tomorrow Never Dies came along James Bond finally found a true equal with Michelle Yeoh, Brosnan instinctively softened up Bond so that we got a peek at his vulnerability and (gasp) sensitivity. Even the producers were sold on Brosnan as the true heir apparent during his run.

Die Another Day is a bit of a goofy film for the series. It opens up so strong as Bond goes undercover to foil a North Korean megalomaniac Colonel Tan-Sun Moon (Rick Yune), only to be outed by mere technology, drat it all... As Bond sends Moon to his alleged death after a wild hovercraft chase, he is captured and tormented as the opening credits roll. Unfortunately, Madonna turns in one of the worst songs of her illustrious career ("Die Another Day") as scenes of Bond's torture unveil during the theme. If the song wasn't so dreadful, you'd have to stand up and cheer at the brilliance of combining the opening theme with the story continuation flashing behind the credits.

The plot of Die Another Day is reminiscent of previous Bond outings such as Diamonds Are Forever and ugh, Moonraker... After being set up on his North Korea mission and left for dead, Bond is inexplicably traded back to the British two years later in exchange for madman Moon's brother Zao, whose face looks like he stumbled out of The Matrix on one side. As Bond is recuperating, M (played lately by the more-than-excellent Judy Dench, whose career is suddenly hotter than one of Bond's bedwarmers) coldly informs Bond he is deactivated from the secret service, that he is of no use to the agency.

Unwilling to take this lying down, Bond escapes his hold and sets off in search of the traitor who sold him out. Bond's travels takes him to Cuba, the UK and Iceland when all is said and done, and his trail leads him to Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), a literally sleepless cad who is building an orbital mirror system that is fired up by pure diamonds, which has made their way through the film into his possession. Graves is hiding his true intention of creating a superweapon that utilizes the sun into his powerful ray cannon.

As M restores James Bond's 00 status and eventually sends Q to lend a hand in the field. Bond trails Graves to London after first boinking the smoking hot Halle Berry, who plays "Jinx," an NSA undercover agent. You know, I wish I could lie about who I am, slip in a sly compliment and get laid right on the spot... Ohhhh James...

Graves and Bond engage in a terrific fencing match in Britain that grows ugly. Still, at the invite of Graves, Bond travels to Iceland to witness the unveiling of Graves' apperatus. M assigns agent Miranda Frost to accompany Bond on his mission to destroy the sun refractor, and of course, everything goes to hell from there. Jinx shows up in Iceland, Graves turns out to be none other than a surgically altered Colonel Tan-Sun Moon (as if the name wasn't a dead giveaway), and guess what? Bond finds out who sold him out in North Korea, guessed's Miranda Frost, who put on a convicing act of naivete and forceful will not to bed James Bond on the mission, but eventually caves in and lets him wet his wick. I guess cold as ice is far too obvious to state here...

Jinx or not, I'll take Hottest Bond Girls Who Aren't Ursula Andress for $500, Alex...

The good part about Die Another Day is that it is heavy on the action, heavy on the babes (I mean, Halle Berry, dudes) and heavy on the eye-popping film locations. Where the movie fails--and it has nothing at all to do with Pierce Brosnan, who by this time has the role firmly in his acting grasp--is that it's a stupid plot and the words "suspension of disbelief" must be exercised greatly; not from the action, but from subtle parts of the movie, such as Bond surviving two years' worth of scorpion stings and antidotes, amongst other abuses in North Korea, or the fact that he escapes M and the secret service with ease (even if he is James Bond; it's just not a convincing getaway).

My biggest complaint about Die Another Day is the hideous CGI animation in Iceland as Bond escapes Graves/Moon (and from a big brute coolly named Mr. Kill, who is utterly wasted like Darth Maul). Whereas the opening surfing scene into North Korea looks pretty wicked, the computer tidal wave in Iceland is so unconvincing and amateurish. In fact, most of that entire escape sequence in Iceland is computerized, and frankly, we expect more from our Bond movies! Give us the real deal, dammit! What is presented in Die Another Day during this series of events looks like a Sci-Fi Channel weekend feature where they're proud to have enough of a budget to pull such a visual off, but for a James Bond flick, that's just crap, sorry.

In summation, Die Another Day is a pretty alright film with more highs than lows, and while it remains to be seen whether or not Pierce Brosnan will ever return as 007, he gave everything he had in a sometimes flawed script. Of course, if you've seen Brosnan's remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, you'll probably watch Die Another Day ten times to forget Thomas Crown exists...

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Battle of the Bonds: # 4 Roger Moore in For Your Eyes Only

When I think of Roger Moore, I think of the fact that his stunt doubles deserve equal billing because of all six Bonds, I think Moore did the least amount of his own stunts, and a lot of the editing was so cheesy (in particular the downward ski sequence at the opening of The Spy Who Loved Me) that the doubles barely matched Moore's bodily dimensions, so that the close-ups and cutaways were embarassing a lot of the times.

I also think of Roger Moore as a suave sophisticate who was probably the right man for the job as far as the seventies and early eighties goes, though seriously, Moore was a sacrificial lamb of sorts after having to follow Sean Connery's run. The thing I can't get over with Roger Moore's 007 is his inflated egotism, which is what most viewers envision James Bond to be. Moore tends to command serious conversation scenes, but in others, he's a complete ham, a cheeky stumblebum whose fighting style is graceless, inarticulate and flimsy. Seriously, Margaret Thatcher could've taken down Moore's Bond.

Roger Moore was obivously called upon to play up the sexuality aspect of James Bond, particularly in an era that thrived on a sex and drug underground. Moore was intended to be hip because, despite his older features and his eventual sagging cheekbones, the young ladies purred just by mere eye contact. I think of Roger Moore almost as the George Burns 007 because he radiated a ridiculous machismo that everyone in his microcosm played into because it was just part of the joke.

I only own two of Roger Moore's Bond films because I can hardly stomach the others. As I mentioned before, Moonraker was beyond awful (despite the fact I was collecting the trading cards in 1977), while A View to a Kill was just as silly as the series has ever seen, despite a pretty game--if inexperienced--performance by Grace Jones. Octopussy was great in name only, and even Live and Let Die failed to capture the essence of Ian Fleming's book, though a lot of the other films borrowed liberally from it--For Your Eyes Only being one of them.

For Your Eyes Only is a hell of a rollercoaster ride and is actually one of my favorite Bond films of all-time. Roger Moore is perhaps at his best ever in the role, while the action sequences are breathtaking at every turn. I think the Olympic stadium chase scenes are enough to carry the film alone; the ski chase that ends up in the luge is beyond impressive, even though Roger Moore was likely golf-clapping his stunt double from behind John Glen's director chair for making him look so astonishingly athletic. Of course, the opening segment with Bond trapped in a remote controlled helicopter, only to turn the tide on his wheelchair-bound tormentor by hoisting him into the air and dumping him down a factory chimney...that's style, I have to admit. Plus, it's funny as hell.

I'm not going to say Moore is a complete pansy; only those in attendence on the film's set can attest how much Moore did on his own, in particular the underwater scenes and the rock climb in the film's finale. Hell, all of the Bonds needed stand-ins at one point or another, but hey, this is how filmmaking was done before snooty viewers such as myself started flagging the producers for protecting their star investments with overextended and often mismatched simulation backscreen shots to try and keep a continuity flowing. But enough of this, let's move on...

The quick synopsis to For Your Eyes Only is thus: On assignment, James Bond crosses paths with an attractive Greek woman, Melina Havelock (starring Carole Bouquet), who is after the same target that killed her archeologist parents. Melina successfully snuffs the assassin but vows to continue her vengeance by tracking down the one responsible for the hit, who turns out to be Aristotle Kristatos (Julian Glover).

Fortunately for James Bond, the British Secret Service is also hot on the trail, and naturally 007 is going to come across Melina more than once again. The action stays intense, and an interesting swapping in tones keeps For Your Eyes Only intriguing. At times, Bond is forced to be more violent than merely heroic, such as his brutal dispatching of pain in the ass criminal Emile Locque (Michael Gothard). Roger Moore was reportedly against this heavy-handedness, claiming that "his Bond" would never go so far. Yet the lighter, comedic tones that marks Moore's tenure keeps things from getting too intense. A prime example is when James Bond has to fight off a trio of thugs in hockey gear; every time he takes one down, they slide into the goal and the buzzer goes off. Okay, not so funny now since the gag has been repeated a lot, but it's one of the times where Moore's shtick works in his favor.

Aside from Melina is the too-young-even-for-James Bond Bibi Dahl (what a cute play on words, huh?), a would-be skating champion played by the bubbly and very cute Lynn-Holly Johnson. Thank God Moore's scruples as a human being played into this interaction, because for once he doesn't bed a girl who could obviously be his daughter.

All of my complaints about Roger Moore aside, I am very fond of For Your Eyes Only and I just adore the way Melina whispers the film title before she and Bond skinny-scuba to the final credits. It's a moment of sheer obviousness that still works like a charm. In summation, For Your Eyes Only is a fast-paced, almost relentless action flick that Roger Moore was actually a success in.

Some notables about For Your Eyes Only: One, future Bond actor Timothy Dalton was asked to star in the film but he had other obligations. Can you imagine what might've been, for better or worse? Another highlight is the fact that Cassandra Harris, who plays Countess Lisl Von Schlaf, Bond's obligatory mid-film sexual encounter, was married to none other than another future James Bond, Pierce Brosnan, during the filming of this movie. For you Mr. Skin addicts, Harris's bare breast can be quickly spotted if you pause and slow forward the DVD player. And this was a PG movie! Granted, the standards for PG were a little more lax at the time. A final notable is that Blondie was originally contacted to sing "For Your Eyes Only" before Sheena Easton got the job. Things happen for a reason. I love Blondie, but cannot necessarily fathom Debbie Harry's voice to this song. Wouldn't Debbie have made a cool Bond girl back in the day, though?

Monday, April 02, 2007

Battle of the Bonds: # 5 Timothy Dalton in Licence to Kill

I'm going to be honest with you all; I did not expect to be putting Timothy Dalton behind Roger Moore, but I was going off of my initial reactions from when Dalton took over the role of James Bond for two films in the late eighties: The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill. I remember hearing many people criticize Dalton for various reasons, one for being a powderpuff Bond, despite the fact that his interpretation was intended to reveal a darker Bond, while others felt Dalton simply looked confused in the role.

I would have to say that even though in 1989 when Licence to Kill came out I was pretty impressed with the film, I do remember thinking that Dalton was a bit reserved in comparison to his more commanding presence in The Living Daylights. I also remember thinking that Licence to Kill was still pretty kickass and that people needed to leave poor Dalton alone.

Upon further review, using Licence to Kill as a gauge, I'd have to reassess this film a bit. First and foremost, I'm going to give the critics their partial due and mention that Timothy Dalton indeed does look a little bewildered in this film. I think it's partially his puppy dog eyes and sharp nose that takes some of the ruggedness out of the character, so in a way Bond looks a little naive just upon first glance. It's also Dalton's tendency towards shy expressions that convey a small lack of confidence in what he's doing, despite the fact that Licence to Kill benefits from a strong story, though it is borrowed partially from Ian Fleming's novel Live and Let Die and a short Bond story called "The Hildebrand Rarity."

The plot is rather basic: after a rather amusing opening sequence with James Bond and his close friend, DEA Agent Felix Lieter (played by David Hedison) flying to Leiter's wedding, the pair is re-routed for an emergency nab of nasty drug lord Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi), thus allowing for a spirited opening and a parachute drop to the church before the credits roll. It wouldn't be James Bond without such a flamboyant opening montage.

When Sanchez escapes his captors through the betrayal of another DEA agent, he kills Leiter's new bride (played by the always scrumptuous Priscilla Barnes of Three's Company) and tortures Leiter by dropping him into a shark tank. Upon hearing of Sanchez's escape, James Bond delays his departure from Florida and investigates, only to find Priscilla splayed (and as insinuated by Sanchez, layed) on the bed, while Leiter has barely survived his ordeal.

Thus sets Bond on a revenge motif, despite the fact that the British government has ordered him on another mission. Issuing his resignation to a stymied M, M revokes Bond's licence to kill, which makes James Bond an official rogue.

As James Bond sets out to infiltrate Sanchez's empire by incrementally working his way past Anthony Zerbe (whose role of Milton Krest is only memorable for his bloody demise at the hands of Sanchez) and a young Benecio Del Toro, who plays the pesty Dario, Licence to Kill moves along at not quite as strong a pace as The Living Daylights or even some of Roger Moore's films, which at least had the benefit of outrageous stunts to give them character.

Licence to Kill is filmed quite well, and it seems a little brighter than most of the Bond films. Producer Albert Broccoli and director John Glen make Licence to Kill their final project after a long run on the series and they extract the lush vibrance of Florida, and even though we're accustomed to James Bond taking us to multiple locations in each film, it's interesting to see him contained in one spot. Also, I think in particular the explosive finale really shows off the deep orange hues of the detonations, helping to make the film larger-than-life. This was before CGI, so you're getting the real deal here.

The Bond girls this time around are Carey Lowell as Pam Bouvier, a former military guard who aids Bond in his vengeance mission, and Sanchez's promiscuous girlfriend Lupe Lamora (Talisa Soto). The power struggle for Bond's affections--primarily from the sulking Bouvier--is amusing if nothing else. I've always found the whole concept of women falling for James Bond on the drop of a dime somewhat far-fetched, but then again, there is a larger female audience for the series than most would realize. It's part of the fantasy charm of James Bond, and unfortunately that element is a bit lacking in Licence to Kill.

While it's noteworthy that Licence to Kill is focused primarily on a revenge story, which makes it an interesting endeavor, Timothy Dalton's somewhat confused gallavanting in the film hurts it just a little. He can display anger when the scene really calls upon him to do it, but that boyish facade keeps peeking through, so you're often wont to wonder why he really cares about avenging his friends at all. That aside, Licence to Kill is a mostly entertaining film that Dalton barely keeps afloat. Perhaps this is why James Bond went on a six-year holiday afterwards...

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Coming up this week: Battle of the Bonds

I've been on a serious James Bond kick the past few weeks, which is funny since I've only had a fleeting interest in the series throughout my life, hitting periodic strides where I'll watch a few then forget about them awhile. Of course, if you submit yourself to the dreadful Moonraker, you might be tempted to never watch James Bond again! Regardless, I think I'm craving the simplistic fantastical adventures these fun and often crazy films offer, even though the 2006 redux of Casino Royale was far more serious than the other movies, in my opinion. I really loved that film and as a result, I've had certain opinions about it--in particular about Daniel Craig who did a smash-up job in it, so much I've been compelled to bulk up my Bond collection.

Not to be found in my collection...parody or not, it stinks

I decided it would be fun for this coming week to throw five of the six actors who have played James Bond into a battle royale. It's been a very long time since I've seen On Her Majesty's Secret Service featuring one-timer George Lazenby and I was hoping to score a copy to make this a six-day event, but alas, not to be found so easily out there. I believe it's soon going to be getting the same cleanup treatment that MGM did recently with six individual Bond films (not including the box sets) including Thunderball and The Spy Who Loved Me.

What I'll say is that Lazenby did a very nice job as an intermediate stand-in for Sean Connery in 1969, but because Connery is perceived by most fans as the supreme icon Bond, Lazenby is basically a footnote in the history of the film series. On Her Majesty's Secret Service is actually one of the stronger Bond movies because of its depth and cool action sequences, and I recall Telly Savalas having a hand in the movie's success, but since Lazenby was never to be seen again as 007, we'll just give the man his due and leave it at that.

For the upcoming week, I have selected the following five Bond films to represent each actor in this little skirmish, and each day I will present my tally and a little write-up each day this week beginning from fifth best to the ultimate Bond. For the record, Daniel Craig put himself in the running because he is already slated to resume as 007 in Bond 22, which comes out in 2008. This at least ties him with Timothy Dalton at two films to his credit at this point. So with that, our Bond contestants will be:

Goldfinger - Sean Connery
For Your Eyes Only - Roger Moore
Licence to Kill - Timothy Dalton
Die Another Day - Pierce Brosnan
Casino Royale - Daniel Craig

Do check in this week for Battle of the Bonds!