Welcome to the final Five Favourites of 2021. It has been an absolute blast. See below my closing selections for the year:
Diana Ross – Eaten Alive (1985)
In addition to being an excellent album, Eaten Alive sports a rather unbelievable cover. Diana, afro sprawling, clutching her perls which are also in the mouth of stuffed tiger! At least I hope the tiger is stuffed or this might rank as one of the world’s most dangerous photo shoots. There’s something quite bizarre and wonderful about this cover.
Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (1971)
… the front cover depicting a black woman buried up to her neck screaming in agony and back cover showing the same woman’s head, now become a skull. Vinyl District
Model Barbara Cheeseborough (real name) is pictured on the cover of this celebrated album, buried up to her neck in dirt and screaming. What more could you want from a cover? I am not sure whether this constitutes good cover art but it is quite striking in a way. The skull adds a delicious layer of existential distaste into the mix.
Rick James – Come Get It! (1978)
There is something about Rick James covers which is surreal to me. Frequently in knee high faux leather booties, Rick seems to tread the line of camp and glam rock/funk. He seems to use this to dispel any suggestion of homosexuality by pointing directly at a young lady who seems very uncomfortable on the floor, possibly in as much agony as Ms Cheeseborough. I hope she wasn’t too cold.
Prince – Prince (1979)
The simplicity of this cover is quite striking to me. Prince, young and moustashed, presumably nude as he was in the cover of Lovesexy, with a smattering of the colour purple, looking smouldering. What more does one need in an album cover? This is so simple but so effective – here is the artist before you, no embellishments, just Prince. There is an honesty here which indeed flows through the album, in which Prince plays every instrument (around 26 from memory) with virtuosity.
Grace Jones – Warm Leatherette (1980)
Grace Jones highly underrated by me
Cannon, formerly Saint, Nicholas Jenkins
Finally, Grace Jones’ excellent cover for Warm Leatherette. My vinyl has the blue cover. This was an excellent cover designed by Jean Paul Goude. This was the first of the ‘new Grace’ phase after three disco albums produced by disco legend Tom Moulton. This was the new look and the new sound, recorded at Compass Point studios with Sly and Robbie from Black Uhuru. A piece of history here, folks.
Warm Leatherette was the first Jones album with cover art designed by her then-boyfriend, Jean-Paul Goude, which presented the singer’s androgynous look for the first time. It featured a black and white photograph of Jones pregnant, with her signature flattop haircut, sitting with her arms crossed. Chris Blackwell praised it as “a very powerful image”. Wikipedia
After a lovely Mass at St Nicholas in Amsterdam a few weeks ago, Celia and I headed to Utrecht for lunch. I searched the internet webs and found that Dogma Hotdogbar was a place of interest which I felt compelled to investigate. After a confusing journey from the beautiful Utrecht Central train station to Voorstraat, we sat down for lunch. The below artwork on the wall was most amusing.
Celia ordered the below which was the ‘standard’ hotdog. I often think the original thing on the menu is the best and I was not wrong. I had only a small amount of this dish and it was quite excellent. The mesclun, a mixture of tender young gourmet salad greens contains combinations of salad leaves and herbs. This was quite sweet tasting which contrasted with the acidity of the pickle and smokiness of the excellent pork sausage. The crispy onions on the top were just marvellous.
As you can see from the below, I was quite excited to dig into my lovely BBQ beef hot dog. It was quite hard to eat on account of being so large. Also it was almost impossible to cut into pieces because these modern hot dogs tend to focus more on aesthetics then practicality (thanks, social media). In fact the owner jokes with me after I took the below that now I had my instagram picture, I could leave! I had a hearty chortle. The hot dog itself, once I managed to consume it, was sublime. the pulled pork coleslaw was unbelievable and the BBQ sauce was smoky enough and with sweetness to boot. Excellent.
Rudy’s! Why have I not reviewed this before? Who knows? This is one of the best pizzerias in town. The best of course being Alicia’s but that is so far away that I seldom go. Rudy’s is an excellent alternative in town centre and is moments away from St Phillip’s. A true gem in town which deserves more visibility.Since deciding to do a review of this wonderful eatery, I returned to Rudy’s again. We have five pizzas below which I hope will make the case for this eatery. Some of them are specials which are no longer available.
SAN MARZANO TOMATO, FIOR DI LATTE, PORTOBELLO MUSHROOM, BASIL, OREGANO, SEA SALT, PARMESAN & GARLIC OIL.
This rather blurry photograph is the Portobello, which combined the beautifully creamy fior di latte with portobello mushrooms, the profound earthy almost meaty texture of the mushroom making for a very satisfying mouthful.
Holly opted for one of the specials which I cannot quite remember. It seems to be close to the Parmigiana whose ingredients are below:
PARMIGIANA*** 9.20 SAN MARZANO TOMATO, FIOR DI LATTE, ROASTED AUBERGINE, PECORINO, BASIL & E.V. OLIVE OIL
Aubergine, fior di latte, peppers, nice pesto sauce, the whole thing was just delicious, balanced, the acidity of the lemon in the pesto contrasted very well with the meatiness and flavour of the aubergine. Terrific pizza.
SAN MARZANO TOMATO, FIOR DI LATTE, WILD BOAR SALAME, N’DUJA, ROQUITO PEPPERS, PARMESAN, FRESH CHILLI, BASIL & E.V OLIVE OIL
I had the cinghiale which was a boar salami pizza with some rather spicy peppers. The nduja was just delicious and added a richness and almost smokiness to the overall flavour. An excellent pizza. I ate 3/4 of it in one go!
Another pizza from the special menu. This was one with pumpkin, basil and fennel sausage – the combination actually brought tears to my eyes. This was an explosively flavoursome, brilliantly balanced. Quite unbelievable. An autumnal treat.
Overall this is an incredible eatery and I believe the photographs of the pizzas speak for themselves. Do go either in person or a takeaway. They also do cook at home pizzas which I have made use of on many occasions.
Well this album has rather changed my life. I have been an admirer of Talking Heads for some time. Their albums Speaking in Tongues and Remain in Light were the soundtrack to my erasmus year in Rome. I can never listen to them and not think of the B line from Termini to San Paolo, where I went to university. However, their debut album 77 was a total revelation. Ahead of their time in an understatement. What David Byrne (lead vocals, guitar), Chris Frantz (drums), Tina Weymouth (bass), and Jerry Harrison (keyboards, guitar) and created is quite beyond this reviewer’s ambit of description. One can but try to explain this gem of an album.
Alongside its ingenuity, Talking Heads 77 also exists as a mere glimmer of potential, a fascinating prelude to a few of the most visionary albums ever recorded. Pitchfork
From the first notes of the first song this album transports you into the bizarre mind of David Byrne, who is still making musical history to this day. Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town opens and descends into an a-typical Talking Heads Experience. Steel pans come out of nowhere. This track talks about the ardour of finding love in a high paced commercial environment in the stock broking world. It speaks to me for a number of reasons.
New Feeling is exactly that. There is excitement in the music which pulls you around, the music itself pulls back at points as though to express Byrne’s self doubt. Tina Weymouth and Jerry Harrison work together beautifully in parts of this track. Byrne’s vocals are almost like a broken accordion, which does not sound appealing but works very well in this context.
I wish I could meet, every one
I’ve ever met before
Meet them all over again
Bring them up to my room
Meet them all over again
Everyone’s up in my room
This is a new sound which is screaming out to be heard.
Tentative Decisions provides relief from the previous song. The arrangement is simple, almost military in parts. It speaks of the perils of taking a firm stance and then questioning the position one has taken. The breaks from the snare drums are quite ethereal, like one is floating through air. The piano at the end was quite unexpected.
Happy Day is not quite Perfect Day by Lou Reed (ho ho) but is still quite beautiful. 37 seconds in is a particular treat. The riffing is gorgeous while the vocals can be jarring at times. Who Is It? is a brief intermission track.
No Compassion has to be my highlight of the album.
In a world
Where people have problems
In this world
Where decisions are a way of life
Other people’s problems
They overwhelm my mind
They say compassion is a virtue
But I don’t have the time
If ever there was a song to describe my current exact mood this is the one. The riff is excellent, the exasperation is clear as day. The words are delivered in a poignant way “why are you in love with your problems, I think you’ve taken it a little too far. It’s not cool to have so many problems” – genius. I wonder who hurt David Byrne to the point of producing this track.
The Book I Read is another brilliant track. It’s about falling in love with an author. Great pace, great energy, the tale of an ambitious young New Yorker. The piano throughout is a triumph. The drums at the end are transcendent.
Don’t Worry About the Government is a sarcastic upbeat song about an optimistic person coming to New York and all the things they hope to do which they will not be able to do because of the government. It is both optimistic and pessimistic, without saying anything negative. The whole song has, to me, the spectre of government looming in the background threatening to stop him at every stage.
First Week / Last Week has an excellent lyric – “every appointment has been moved to last week”. Would that I could move my meetings to the past! I have an average of 25 meetings per week so can fully empathise. This song is quite harrowing, speaking of the dangers of overworking, which seems to be a theme in this album.
Now the song you have all been waiting for… Psycho Killer, que-ce que c’est? This song has historic links to killings in New York, though the band insist there was no such link. The song is a telling monologue of the inner thoughts of a serial killer.
The song was composed near the beginning of the band’s career and prototype versions were performed onstage as early as December 1975. When it was finally completed and released as a single in December 1977, “Psycho Killer” became instantly associated in popular culture with the contemporaneous Son of Sam serial killings. Although the band always insisted that the song had no inspiration from the notorious events, the single’s release date was “eerily timely” and marked by a “macabre synchronicity”. Wikipedia
Finally, Pulled Up. This is also a highlight for me. A high point in the album. The excited New Yorker has come full circle and achieved what he dreamed of. This is indeed what David Byrne went onto achieve, being a leading authority on music, theatre and cinematography. What a terrific success and fulfilling album this is. Listen to the guitars descending after “you pulled me up”. Just great.
Overall I have three main impressions: this is an album about new punks on the block looking to make a name for themselves. This album is written to encompass the fraught perils of being new on the scene and emerging as a band of note. IT is filled with possibilities and successes waiting to happen, a hopelessly hopeful album.
Is the French Dispatch Wes Anderson’s best film? I don’t think so. I enjoyed an evening at the Prince Charles Cinema in London which covered all of Wes’ films and advertisements up to and including The Grand Budapest. It was a delightful evening and helped me appreciate the full panoply of Wes’ genius. I feel at this stage that Wes has achieved everything he wants to cinematographically and is at the stage where he is having fun. The film is split into three distinctive chapters, none of which are really linked. It felt to me like a concise The Meaning of Life – itself a string of collected sketches with a vague almost superfluous backing direction.
Bill Murray as Arthur Howitzer Jr., the editor in chief of The French Dispatch
Tilda Swinton as writer J. K. L. Berensen
Owen Wilson as writer Herbsaint Sazerac
Adrien Brody as art dealer Julian Cadazio
Benicio Del Toro as Moses Rosenthaler, an imprisoned artist
Léa Seydoux as Rosenthaler’s prison guard and muse
Frances McDormand as journalist Lucinda Krementz
Timothée Chalamet as Zeffirelli, a student revolutionary
Lyna Khoudri as Juliette, a fellow student rebel
Jeffrey Wright as food journalist Roebuck Wright
The main premise of the film is that the editor of the French Dispatch, a newspaper, has died. His will contained a stipulation that the paper would be disbanded. Therefore the film shows how three journalists from the film put together articles for the final issue. The first ‘bit’ of this colourful triumvirate showed an enigmatic Owen Wilson, playing Herbsaint Sazerac, cycling around Ennui-sur-Blasé, a fictitious French town. He sets the scene for the film beautifully.
The movie takes the form of the magazine’s final issue, which features Howitzer’s obituary; a brief travelogue by a writer named Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), which shows, in a thumbnail sketch, how the publication’s tone and substance has evolved; and three long feature articles. The features, each running about a half hour, catch the grand preoccupations and varied subjects of the magazine’s writers, and the combination of style and substance that marks their literary work—and Anderson’s cinema. New Yorker
The first element of the film is strong, telling the tale of an artist in a mental asylum making sensational art with his muse, one of the prison officers. Tilda Swinton narrates this part in admirable fashion, bringing her full weirdness. The performance reminded me of the sterling job she did as Mancunian train warden in Snowpiercer. She and Wes are indeed uniquely suited for one another.
The first section, a portrait of a criminally insane artist (Benicio del Toro), is a sly pleasure, not least because it’s narrated by Tilda Swinton as arts correspondent JKL Berensen, a fabulously glamorous creature with buck teeth, a tangerine evening dress and the tantalising hint of a scandalous past. Guardian
The third element was a little contrived for me, telling the story of a chess loving, cheroot smoking student activist and his journey for some left wing ideal of other. In the process we get to see Timothée Chalamet in bed with Frances McDormand and other disturbing sights. There is a resplendent moment when he is on a motorbike with Lyna Khoudri, riding away, the lighting and slow motion of this film captures the beauty of juvenile freedom, likely based in ignorance, and the fresh untainted sheen of young love. A stirring moment which probably ranks as one of the high points of the film.
“The French Dispatch” contains an overwhelming and sumptuous profusion of details. This is true of its décor and costumes, its variety of narrative forms and techniques (live action, animation, split screens, flashbacks, and leaps ahead, among many others), its playful breaking of the dramatic frame with reflexive gestures and conspicuous stagecraft, its aphoristic and whiz-bang dialogue, and the range of its performances, which veer in a heartbeat from the outlandishly facetious to the painfully candid. New Yorker.
Finally, the third segment comprises “a food review turned heist thriller narrated by and starring Jeffrey Wright at his most mellifluous and charming (Guardian)”. This was the best part of the film, and I am not saying that only because I run a food ish blog. This was an exciting segment with rich sumptuous shots, with a mixture of live action and animation. The script was fantastic, the tension done perfectly, and the culinary direction was quite spectacular. This was all the more personal for the discussions of difficulties of being homosexual and black at the time the film was set, as well as the harrowing prospect of living in exile in Ennui, something Wright and the head chef Nescaffier (Steve Park) discuss towards the end of the segment.
Wright tells his story from the stage of a TV talk show (the host is played by Liev Schreiber, with a brilliant deadpan reserve), where he proves his “typographic memory” by reciting his article verbatim. It then gets dramatized onscreen, with Wright talking to the camera as the events unfold. New Yorker.
Overall, while I was dazzled by the visual artistry and delivery of this film, I can’t say it was my favourite Wes film. My favourite is, of course, the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. There were visual delights and monstrously strong elements in this film but it lacked a certain soul and direction. It was, as I have written, a pastiche of Wes-isms and an insightful journey into what an artist can achieve post-success.