Wednesday, May 27, 2009

5/29/09 - On the evolution of Green Day

From the Pitchfork review of 21st Century Breakdown, the new Green Day, re:American Idiot:

"Have you tried to parse the lyrics to "Holiday" or "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" lately? This wasn't anti-imperialist dissent set to kick-ass. It was gaudy, way-too-impressionistic, self-congratulatory garbage warbled over lumbering AOR dressed in strings and conceptual malarkey."

Now, when it comes to reviewing music, Pitchfork is a straw man constructed out of the world's largest hay bale, but still, I thought that toward the end of the '00s we were past equating commercial success with lack of quality. Like it or no, describing the Green Day of American Idiot as "lumbering AOR dressed in strings" betrays a gross laziness of musical descriptive powers. You want lumbering AOR dressed in strings? Try picking up a Kansas album, buddy. Green Day's still playing 3-4 pop-punk last time I checked, even if they've taken to adding some stylistic grace notes here and there. OK, a 9 minute conceptual song suite isn't very Ramones-ish on the surface, but if you dig into "Jesus of Suburbia" it's easy to hear the the underlying architecture is still recognizably Green Day - it's just that there's a few more shifts in tempo and instrumentation.

It's something that anyone in the punk idiom has to wrestle with - music based on the anyone-can-play dictum that has, as its primary audience, teenagers, invariably has to either mutate or die, but it comes out of a subculture with pretty rigorous formal codes. Ambition is frowned upon. The two touchstones of the punk revolution, musically, the Clash and the Ramones, serve as very different templates; interestingly, the biggest East Bay punk bands, Green Day and Rancid, both have followed the Clash template, incorporating different influences as they've transitioned from snotty upstarts to established vets. For this, Green Day, especially, gets pilloried?

There's a catch-22 at work here that all bands that last for longer than 2-3 albums have to contend with, but punk bands more than most - do you keep doing what you're doing, or do you change and evolve? There's merit to both, but it's a lot easier to work these things out as a band in a commercial vacuum, because nobody gives a damn. It's also easier to do as a Big Rock Band, because the template was set by the Beatles. So when Radiohead decides to follow up a masterpiece with a half-assed set of song sketches (ahem, Kid A), they get lauded for breaking new ground. When Green Day starts trying to ape the Who, they get the insulting 'AOR mess' tag, as though they're toddlers trying to fly a plane.

Thing is, their only musical problem is how to reconcile the sound of pogo-ing 16 year olds that forms their core (like the way old blues informs the core of the Stones), with the ambition that comes from being honest-to-God grownups, with kids and everything. The tension may show at times, but ambition shouldn't be slapped down reflexively, even if it results in multiplatinum sales and arena shows. Sometimes the lucre comes along with the singalong chorus, and sometimes it doesn't.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

5/20/09 - Lost, Season 5, Final 2 Episodes

1. OK, Miles finally voiced what I've been saying all season, which is that the Incident is being created by the time-travelers at the heart of this season. I would be very surprised if S6 opens with anything other than the time travelers awaking on the beach back in the present, everything unchanged. I appreciate that the writers have stayed true to their own rules of time travel, namely that you can't change the past. What was so interesting this season was seeing the ways that the castaways created their own past. What it makes me wonder is why Daniel got the idea that he could actually change things, when he for so long had been the consistent voice arguing that the past could not be changed. His change of heart was unclear, and naturally, to maintain the mystery, he was gunned down before he could do much explaining other than speaking cryptically about people being the variable and how the hydrogen bomb would need to be detonated to ground the energy pocket.

2. There are way too many guns on Lost. One thing that was great about the first season was how scarce weaponry was. Now everybody seems to belong to the SWAT. There's no reason Jack should be in a gunfight with members of the Dharma Initiative - on a show that strains credibility on the best of days, there's no need to employ the dreaded 80s action movie cliche of the villains being unable to hit the broad side of a barn.

3. Jack is such a tool. For him to say that he wants to detonate the bomb to erase the misery of him screwing up his relationship with Kate is such tiresome BS. He remains purely reactive and hasn't changed a bit.

4. Fascinating when dead Locke tumbled out of the box. Really plays up Terry O'Quinn's spookiness as Locke, which is something that the show does an excellent job with. In contrast to Jack, who has hardened into a very 2D character, Locke remains an intriguing enigma. Sometimes pathetic, sometimes irrational, and sometimes creepy as hell and twice as threatening. And now that he's imbued with the spirit of the nameless Man In Black from the beginning of the episode (or is that man, or is the smoke monster, or is one or both of those and Locke), the intrigue surrounding him deepens. I'm reminded of the moment in the pilot when he puts the orange peel in his mouth and appears absolutely terrifying. Sometimes he's got the scary nutso intensity of a true believer, and sometimes he's the most lost character on a show full of them, and both are eminently believable.

5. All that racing around LA was just time filler, as suspected. It really wasn't necessary to get the O6 off the island - just false obstacles to stretch the story out. Nothing really crucial happened while they were off the island.

6. Juliet dying feels like a cop-out. It's bizarre because she and Sawyer have so much more history accorded to them than we have spent time with them. As viewers we're seen them in a relationship for a total of about 4-5 hours. They've spent 3 years together. I think that the 3 year mark is too long - it's just so much time and killing Juliet off so soon after we learn about the relationship throws the audience's perception of the depth of that relationship off. Sawyer knew Kate for about 100 days- what, he's really still hung up on her? The length of time he spent happy with Juliet makes the whole Kate love triangle seem even dumber (and it's already excruciating).

7. I've never seen a show that foregrounds its weakest elements so often. The difference between a Ben/Locke/Faraday centered episode and a Jack/Kate one is profound, and the the quality of the latter has been on a steady downward trajectory.

8. I'm happy that we have finally been introduced (presumably) to the top of the pyramid, conflict-wise. Jacob vs. the Man In Black would seem to be the ultimate conflict of the show, with Ben and Widmore serving as pawns and the castaways serving as the pawns of pawns. I liked how Ben snapped - carrying the burden of being Oz the powerful left him with a pretty intense chip on his shoulder, indeed.

9. Bring on Season 6!