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Thom Yorke : Suspiria (Music For The Luca Guadagnino Film)

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Suspiria (XL Recordings)

Dario Argento’s legendary supernatural masterpiece Suspiria was not only a stunning slice of atmospheric horror, it also boasted one of the great scores of 20th century cinema by Italian band Goblin (or the “Goblins” as they were credited on the film).

Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake starring Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton is about to hit British cinemas next month, having recently premiered here at the BFI London Film Festival to reviews that generally agree the new film fails to match the breathtaking brilliance of its original.

Composed by Thom Yorke, the accompanying soundtrack – his debut feature length score – comes out today on XL. According to the singer, the music this time round takes its main influence not from Goblin’s disturbing but dazzling OST but from Vangelis’ work on Blade Runner. This is maybe most evident in the cold synth riff that opens Volk, and micro-short tracks like A Soft Hand Across Your Face, Synthesizer Speaks, The Universe is Indifferent and Suspirium Finale pt 2.

This, though, is a diverse listen. One minute you might think of a György Ligeti choir; the next some musique concrète experiment. The Balance of Things possesses a distinct eastern feel while Klemperer Walks momentarily made me think of the Wendy Carlos.

More often, a number of the tracks bring to mind kosmiche acts from the mid 1970s. The original movie was released in 1977 and this new ‘cover version’ as Swinton refers to it as, is set in that same year, a time when German electronic act Tangerine Dream scored William Friedkin’s Sorcerer, Klaus Schulze provided the music for Lasse Braun’s Body Talk and Popol Vuh released their ninth album, the OST for Werner Herzog’s Heart of Glass. It’s easy to imagine Yorke listening to albums like these as he commenced work on this project.

Suspirium itself, the first taster from the album, is one of the highlights here. A sparse song with elegiac piano melody, pastoral flute and the most plaintive vocals you’ll hear in 2018, this is vintage Yorke. Has Ended features a crisp drum tattoo (played by Yorke’s son Noah) and dreamy psychedelic drones; A Choir of One has a sinister feel, the prelude, I would guess, to some nerve shredding action. The piano on Unmade wouldn’t sound out of place on some middle of the road track and gives listeners some light relief during what is a sometimes unsettling listen.

Notably Yorke’s bandmate companion Jonny Greenwood has received much acclaim for his own contributions to the art of scoring in recent years although the Academy have so far failed to award him an Oscar. I haven’t yet seen the new Suspiria, so it’s impossible for me to say how effective this music will work in tangent with the visual flair of Guadagnino but I would guess Yorke’s work here would have to be seriously considered – along with Greenwood’s fine job on Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here.

I can judge this, though, as a standalone (double) album. There are many fascinating instrumental fragments that might be described as incidental music rather than as fully fledged songs. Not that this means I don’t admire them hugely anyway.

Best of all are the tracks where Yorke supplies that famous fragile falsetto of his on such as Has Ended and Open Again. Suspirium Finale is a take on Suspirium with strings supplied by The London Contemporary Orchestra, who also contributed to Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool. It’s as good as anything on that 2016 album.

Other pieces such as Sabbath Incantation obviously have a definite purpose in accompanying some specific narrative event on-screen, and these prove less successful as music you’ll want to listen to on any kind of regular basis. For the sake of album cohesiveness, Yorke might have been wise to drop some of these moments. Most fans will likely want to programme their own version.

Uneven but mostly engrossing.

8/10

To stream or buy the album click here.

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How To Talk To Girls At Parties (Soundtrack Sundays #5)

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How to Talk to Girls at Parties UK poster

The Damned: New Rose (1977)
Xiu Xiu, Elle Fanning & Alex Sharp: Eat Me Alive (2017)

Back in 1977, I would buy or borrow a copy of NME or Sounds and read through them: the news items, interviews, reviews and letters pages. I would also diligently scan along the live listings, seeing who was playing across the country as if it wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility that I might just decide to dog off school for a couple of days and travel down to see some band like Wire or Slaughter and The Dogs play Canterbury or Bristol on a Tuesday night.

One name that would repeatedly crop up in these listings was The Greyhound in Croydon. This venue would regularly advertise shows, usually with cool acts like The Adverts, Buzzcocks and local favourites Johnny Moped. Seeing their ads convinced me that Croydon must be a bit of a hotspot for punk rock and that anybody living there was lucky.

Enn, Vic and John, the three schoolboy punks we’re introduced to here don’t feel the same way about their home turf. But, even during the brouhaha of Jubilee Day, they still manage to get at least some teenage kicks as they wind up their parents, local royalists and teddy boys, while somehow managing to make their way around town on a bicycle definitely not made for three.

All this soundtracked by The Damned – an act with a big Croydon connection – and the first, and some might argue, the best British punk single ever recorded:

Directed by John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig And The Angry Inch, Shortbus) and based on a short story by Neil Gaiman, How To Talk To Girls At Parties is a coming-of-age science-fiction romcom that also attempts to straddle a few other genres while it’s at it.

The film starts off like a punky version of The Inbetweeners with Enn, played by Alex Sharp, in the role of Will. Enn (short for ‘Enry) contributes cartoons to a fanzine called Virus, that he and his pals put together.

They also like to visit a nearby Greyhound like bar to see local punk wannabes The Dyschords.

Afterwards, by accident, they gatecrash into a party (of sorts) where everyone is humming, dancing or performing gymnastic routines while wearing Vivienne Westwood meets the Teletubbies latex outfits. They look like some weird performance art collective rehearsing for a stint at the Edinburgh Festival.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties still

The boys speculate on who these strange people could be, guessing they might be kooky Californians involved in a cult. I doubt I’m giving anything away here but they are from much farther away and even more alien to teenage punks than yer average 1970s American hippy-dippy west coaster.

Enn meets and immediately likes Zan, played by Elle Fanning. She’s fascinated by his interest in ‘the punk’ and its anti-authoritarian attitudes. She displays a rebellious streak herself to her fellow extraterrestrials, an antiseptic bunch in the main, as conformist as Enn’s neighbours waving their Union Jacks earlier at their neighbourhood street party.

Unfortunately, Zan’s only allowed twenty-four hours in Croydon. In this time she makes a big impression, not only on Enn and his pals but on punk sculptor Queen Boadicea. Played by Nicole Kidman, who looks like a cross between Cruella Deville and Siouxsie Sioux out for a night in some New Romantic club of the early 1980s rather than a punk in the blistering summer of 1977.

This friendship results in Zan and Enn replacing The Dyschord’s singer for a show. Here’s a clip of what is supposed to be an entirely improvised performance:

After this, the film nosedives like a punk band that kick off live with all their best material but when they should be climaxing instead play a bunch of B-sides, bad cover versions and filler tracks from their album, never recovering the initial promise.

How To Talk To Girls At Parties becomes increasingly batshit crazy but not in a good batshit crazy way. Self-indulgence reigns. The Kidman character looks shoehorned in, and I suspect she’d maybe agreed to the part as an old pals act for the director. She’d previously worked with him on 2010’s Rabbit Hole.

By the time the punks, led by Boadicea, storm the townhouse where the aliens are staying, things have become even more excruciating than Kidman’s take on a Cockernee accent.

This is the film’s nadir and it never recovered. It’s probably significant that Gaiman’s short story ended long before any of this.

The debate between the aliens confused me. Or maybe by this point I was just too bored to make the effort to follow it. As for the soundtrack, after New Rose there are no punk classics, most of the music being electronic in nature and mediocre at best.

This is a shame. I liked the director defiantly choosing not to go down the dreary social realist path. This is definitely more Phantom of the Paradise than Rude Boy, believe me although not nearlyas good as that De Palma oddity. Actually a more ‘glam rock’ setting would have been more appropriate. Sci-fi and space travel being a much bigger part of that era. Just think of all those singles like Starman and Space Ace.

Much of the movie is shot beautifully too.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties - Sharp & Fanning

Easily the best thing about it, though, are the two leads even though Enn is obviously a fifteen year old with a particularly long paper round. I did look up his age online and wasn’t too surprised to discover he was well into his mid-20s when the film was shot. I also liked Abraham Lewis as Vic. He even reminded me at times of Tom Hardy.

On the whole the accuracy of the punk backdrop struck me as reasonably accurate if Boadicea is taken out of the equation. Okay, I’ll nitpick a little. Enn has a copy on the Never Mind the Bollocks cover on his wall months before it came out. I guess if you can accept visitors from another planet travelling to Croydon on a reconnaissance mission, then a little faux pas like that is the least of your worries.

File under: Probably sounded like a good idea at the time.

How To Talk To Girls At Parties is just out on DVD & Blu-ray.

To read the short story click here.

Woo-Hoo, Woo-Hoo-Hoo, Woo-Hoo, Woo-Hoo-Hoo (Soundtrack Sundays #2)

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Pecker & Kill Bill

The Rock-A-Teens / The 5.6.7.8’s: Woo Hoo
The Grid: Swamp Thing

Led by Vic Mizelle, The Rock-A-Teens were a rockabilly band based in Richmond, Virginia. They built up a following locally, a large part of their live appeal coming via a near instrumental originally known as Rock-A-Teen Boogie.

Mizelle certainly possesses a fascinating backstory. As a teenager he struggled to control himself and was known to bark like a dog and shout obscenities in public for no apparent reason.

Institutionalized, he was forced to undergo shock treatment. Luckily his family refused the option of a frontal lobotomy. It might seem strange now but it took until the mid-1970s for him to finally be diagnosed as suffering from Tourette’s Syndrome.

Music proved something of a saviour and by the time Rock-A-Teen Boogie was renamed Woo Hoo, life looked to be on the up.

Released in the late summer of 1959, Woo Hoo came out on the independent Doran record label, a subsidiary of Mart Records, owned by record shop owner George Donald McGraw.

The band jointly took the writing credit. Facts here are disputed but I think McGraw invented a story regarding a threatened lawsuit for plagiarism coming from Arthur Smith, the man who wrote and performed one of the great proto rock’n’roll records Guitar Boogie. And, yeah, Woo Hoo clearly bears a striking similarity to Smith’s 1945 song.

With the threat of lawsuit supposedly looming over them, the band were persuaded to sign Woo Hoo off to McGraw, who then awarded himself the sole writing credit.

Re-released on Roulette, a New York label with national distribution, the song now really took off nationally, spending twelve weeks on the Billboard charts in the second half of 1959. It peaked at #16.

The Rock-A-Teens began playing far outwith their Richmond base, one show seeing them share a bill with Arthur Smith, who reputedly claimed he knew nothing about any threatened lawsuit.

Two more singles and an album also titled Woo Hoo followed. These flopped and, within a year of the recording of their vinyl debut, The Rock-A-Teens disbanded.

Their biggest hit, though, has stood the test of time.

Ironically, The Revillos covered the song on their Rev Up album of 1980 where they changed its title to Yeah Yeah and claimed authorship too.

Woo Hoo was also selected for the soundtrack of Pecker, John Waters’ 1998 film which I’ve just watched for the first time since its release.

As we moved towards the millenium, Waters’ movies no longer struck many as that weird. Maybe the world had caught up with cinema’s great outsider.

While the Baltimore director was swimming in the direction of the mainstream and even talking about how he’d like to work with Meryl Streep, the mainstream itself was becoming a whole lot stranger. Just think of the success of The Jerry Springer Show and the celebrity status being accorded to the likes of John Wayne Bobbitt in the 1990s.

Independent films like Spanking the Monkey and Happiness made for far more uncomfortable viewing; Clerks was more potty mouthed and lo-fi while Something About Mary grossed millions at the box office and grossed out millions of movie-goers with a tale that was a million times more tasteless than Pecker.

And wasn’t Waters here just reflecting the feelings of the general public – that the art world is full of pretentious tossers all too eager to embrace the latest version of the Emperor’s new clothes?

With a whole new generation of independent directors like Quentin Tarantino on the rise, suddenly Waters was looking a little old hat even though films like Serial Mom and Pecker still made for entertaining viewing.

It would be Tarantino who would next boost the profile of Woo Hoo when he used it to great effect in his 2003 release Kill Bill Volume 1.

On first seeing this I suspected that the The 5.6.7.8’s might be a Q.T invention. Three supercool, identically dressed Japanese girls with a frenetic stage act playing an exuberant brand of surfabilly. Surely they were just too perfect to be real?

But no, they were a band. Formed in Tokyo in 1986, the track had been released back in 1996 on their Bomb the Twist EP.

Later the track was chosen for a number of high profile TV commercials, in America for Vonage and Chevrolet, while in Britain it featured in an ad (shot in Glasgow) for Carling lager.

Getting back to Pecker. Like many of his movies, it featured mainly music from Waters’ youth, here mostly American rock’n’roll era novelty tunes like Paul Evans’ Happy-Go-Lucky-Me and Leroy Pullins’ I’m a Nut.

The big musical number however was much more contemporary.

Utilised for a climatic scene where the New York art world find the urge to party with a bunch of blue-collar Baltimore eccentrics irresistible, this is The Grid and Swamp Thing. Time to embrace your inner hillbilly, folks!

Soundtrack Sundays #1

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Roy Ayers: Coffy (1973)
Don Ellis & Julie Driscoll: Moon Zero Two (1969)

Before Hollywood began barfing out an endless stream of Fast and Furious Transformers, before streaming and DVDs, before even VHS and Betamax videos were an option for anybody but the rich, cinema going was a very different experience to what it is today.

In Britain, multiplexes didn’t yet exist. Cinema chains would not be given the same access to new releases ensuring film openings would be staggered. My local picture house was a Caledonian, which meant it would usually be showing a completely different set of new films to, say, Odeons or ABCs.

Coffy lobby card

Of course, this meant if you really wanted to see something that was just out you’d sometimes have to travel. I can remember, for example, getting a bus into the old Muirend ABC (known as the Toledo in its former heyday) to see Sheba Baby, a blaxploitation favourite starring Pam Grier. Memories of seeing Coffy are hazier but I think that I must have had to travel into Glasgow city centre for that one. And I vaguely remember it was part of a double bill, possibly with a kung fu flick.

Yes, back then, cinemas hadn’t got round to ripping off their customers at absolutely every available opportunity.

You could accuse Coffy of being formulaic and terribly dated. But it’s also utterly watchable and fantastic fun. Pam Grier is irresistable in the titular role. Few women have ever looked so foxy and been able to kick ass so effortlessly. ‘The baddest One-Chick Hit-Squad that ever hit town!’ as the publicity insisted.

She certainly has the most dangerous Afro in movie history. If you’ve seen the movie you’ll know what I’m talkin’ ’bout.

As with most blaxploitation movies, there’s a great soundtrack too. AllMusic claims it’s a ‘masterpiece on par with Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly and Isaac Hayes’ Shaft‘ which I reckon slightly exaggerates its value but vibraphone legend Roy Ayers does supply a steady stream of soul, jazz and funk grooves that complement the action very effectively. And that famous vibraphone of his does offer a very pleasing texture throughout.

Back then I doubt the score would have made much of an impression on me but all these years later I have to agree with Cullen Gallagher’s liner notes to the Arrow blu-ray re-release: ‘One can’t imagine watching Coffy without the music or listening to the album without seeing the film’s images in your head.’

Right on! This is Coffy is the Color:

Finally, a wee mention for drummer Dennis Davis, who provides the percussion here and would soon go on play with David Bowie and Iggy Pop on classic albums such as Station to Station, Low and The Idiot.

He was also sat behind his kit on many of Bowie’s live tours, including his final Reality Tour in 2003. Sadly, he died just a couple of months after Bowie, just over two years ago.

Moon Zero Two quad poster

Don Ellis & Julie Driscoll: Moon Zero Two (1969)

Hammer Films wasn’t all Count Dracula, Frankenstein, werewolves and creatures from the Black Lagoon.

Moon Zero Two attempted to exploit the success of sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey and the public obsession with the Apollo 11 moon landing.

If compared to Kubrick’s masterpiece, its psychedelic Pop Art vision of the future fails miserably. On the plus side is the booming John Barry-esque title track. Splendidly over the top and even slightly wonky in places – the music was apparently speeded up to better fit in with the animated opening credits sequence much to the annoyance of its composer, visionary Californian jazzer Don Ellis.

Julie Driscoll’s mesmerising, soul-searching vocals, though, save the day.

A cross between Twiggy and Aretha Franklin, psychedelic princess Julie will always be best remembered for This Wheel’s On Fire, a huge hippy era hit credited to Julie Driscoll with Brian Auger and The Trinity, a name that didn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

As for what turned out to be the final Hammer release of the 1960s, well, Moon Zero Two flopped and no soundtrack album has ever been released, helping to consign the title track to undeserved obscurity.

Here is Moon Zero Two:

For more on Roy Ayers: http://www.royayers.com/

For more on Julie Driscoll: http://www.mindyourownmusic.co.uk/julie-tippetts.htm