The Ten Best Movies of 2012

Here are my top ten films of 2012. I go by Academy rules, so theatrically released films in the calendar year are in play. In other words, the copyright on some of these may say 2011 or even 2010 but I classify them as 2012. Here we go.

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10. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – Back in May, this opened on the same day as The Avengers which led to several great comedic opportunities to compare/contrast the two. Though I am a 35-year-old straight white male, I actually preferred this one, seeing it in the theater while I didn’t catch up with the Avengers until a few months later at home (and was largely apathetic to it). There’s something to be said for a straightforward story, well told and impeccably (i.e. British) acted. What’s not to like.

Film Teddybear
9. Teddy Bear – A quiet, and I mean QUIET, curiosity from Denmark, it is the story of bodybuilder who travels to Thailand in search of love and in defiance of his controlling mother. A gentleman through and through, if you’re not rooting for this gentle giant by the end then you, my friend, are made of stone.

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8. Premium Rush – Joseph Gordon Levitt was in about a thousand movies this year and pretty good in just about all of them, but this was my favorite. A quick, genuinely exciting tale of a single day in the life of a bike messenger in Manhattan. The use of real honest-to-goodness-NYC-not-Toronto locations was excellent, from Columbia University to Chinatown and seemingly everywhere in between. The way the plot unfolded in a nonlinear fashion was neat too. Michael Shannon seemed to think he was in a telenovela with his unsubtle acting, but otherwise it is an unpretentious blast.

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7. Flight – The performance of the year, easily. Denzel is in just about every second and is mesmerizing. He won’t win the Oscar, but he should. The story goes in unexpected directions but is all the better for it. A welcome return to live action filmmaking from Robert Zemeckis after a decade in the computer animated wilderness.

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6. Sacrifice – This year I have had a burgeoning interest in all things Chinese, films included, and this was the pick of the bunch. Technically it was made in 2010 but not released theatrically in the US until July of 2012, so I am shoehorning it into my top ten. It is an absorbing, exciting multi generational saga of power, deception, revolution, and oddly enough, parenting. It’s on Netflix streaming, give it a chance.

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5. Skyfall – I have been a fan of James Bond movies since I can remember. I grew up on a taped-from-HBO copy of For Your Eyes Only, and TBS’ running of a Bond film every Wednesday evening was a staple of my early adolescence. But it’s been a long, long time since a Bond film was genuinely great, rather than just entertaining. But then, along came Skyfall. There was much to recommend it, from Roger Deakins’ jaw dropping cinematography, Adele’s epic title song (which after you see the film realize contains loads of spoilers) to the swaggering confidence of its storytelling. A single image remains etched in my head; Javier Bardem’s face lit only by fire as he casually stalks his prey moving toward the unexpectedly titular location.

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4. Argo – Maybe the most genuinely entertaining film of the year. A stranger-than-fiction true story, it may have goosed the ending a bit (the real airport escape was completley uneventful) with the Hollywood cheese it was supposedly mocking, but no film was as instantly absorbing and ingratiating. The attention to historical detail was well appreciated, from the archaic 70s televisions to the unfortuante facial hair choices. It could have been a bit more balanced (seemingly every Iranian is either a frothing zealot or a dim bulb to be fooled) but for the last 45 minutes or so I can’t recall being as wound up in a story as I was this one.

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3. Ruby Sparks – I have liked Zoe Kazan since a small but memorable role in 2008’s Revolutionary Road, and here she not only starred in but wrote this surprisingly affecting film, deconstructing the Manic Pixie Dream Girl prototype in movies. You know, the girl who exists solely to cheer up a depressed white male with artistic aspirations, inevitably conceived by white male writers and directors; Natalie Portman in Garden State and Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown being the most glaring examples. And well, since I am a sometimes depressed white male with the occasional artistic aspiration, I have been gullible to this trope as much as anyone. Paul Dano, a writer struggling with a serious sophomore slump, invents the perfect girl to write about and she pops into existence the following morning and its love at first sight. But as any great fable will tell you, perfection almost always turns out to be a curse and complications ensue. The trailers sold it as a whimsical romcom but it is more a drama about the rottenness of men who want women to conform to their every whim and exist solely for their benefit, and just how hurtful and insulting that can be to both sides of the equation. There’s plenty to delve into on several levels but most of all it is an entertaining, unexpectedly moving film.

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2. Life of Pi – I saw this a bit late, but once I did I was pretty much blown away by it. Perhaps one of the prettiest films I have ever seen. I purposefully avoided the 3D presentation, a format I positively despise, and am very glad that I did. It takes in all sorts of religions and spirituality, as well as the nature of storytelling. I have not read the popular book it is based on, but now I am intrigued. I’m not sure I can explain why it affected me as much as it did, I’m still ruminating. One thing, though, I appreciate the calmness and even placidity of Ang Lee’s direction. Even the action sequences have a graceful beauty to them. A tanker shipwreck at sea is simultaneously terrifying and oddly beautiful as well. It is going to look amazing on blu-ray, but I am glad I got the theatrical experience first.

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1. Moonrise Kingdom – Well, here it is. I pretty much knew when I walked out of the Avon Theater here in Providence back in June that this would be my number one, and so it remains seven months later. Yes, the hipster quirk and twee preciousness nearly reach tipping points, but it just toes the line. No film I’ve seen has captured the melancholy of young, ephemeral love and the yearning loneliness of childhood as well as this. As a builder of worlds, Wes Anderson is just about unmatched. An idyllic sliver off the coast of New England, New Penzance Island is a wondrous creation of cinematography and location work. Filmed locally around the quietly beautiful Narragansett Bay, as a resident of Rhode Island I was enraptured and appreciative of the locales. It also captures the languid humidity of a late New England summer, how a day can stretch on into the infinite. The plot is almost irrelevant (if a tad intrusive), I could just watch Sam and Suzie wander the island for hours and hours. I’m not sure why it struck such a chord with me, I hated scouting as a kid and to this day I’m extremely un-outdoorsy, but that is the magic and power of a cinematic experience. I’m willing to grant that TV has superseded film in the realms of memorable characters and gripping narratives. Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, and even the crazy twists and turns of the addictive Homeland are where you’ll see the finest acting, writing, directing and storytelling these days. However it is a singular experience such as Moonrise Kingdom, one that is full of wonder, beauty, humor, warmth, and sadness, that serves as a timely reminder that going to the movies is still worth it.

Elsewhere…
The Dark Knight Rises – I’ve never been a huge fan of the Nolan Batman series, but in terms of event filmmaking and conversation generation, it is pretty much a must see. Seeing it in IMAX made it extra-intensive. Again, I didn’t love it, but I appreciated it in an odd way for its ability to bring people together, even after the horrors in Aurora.
Not Fade Away – pretty good, but the WTF ending left a bad taste.
Albatross – If you want to see Lady Sybil from Downton Abbey naked for a few seconds, here’s your movie.
Lincoln – US history, especially the 19th century, is a keen interest of mine. So this was catnip for me. I liked it for the most part but had a few issues; it’s a little repetitive, every 15 minutes or so Lincoln spins a folksy yarn that illuminates the situation (which, to be fair, is true to history). At times Spielberg can over direct things and make every scene have a magical payoff, when it should just play out, but for the most part it is a solid film.
Les Miserables – I almost feel like I have to recuse myself with this one, like a judge who is too close to the issue. This is my favorite musical by far, so it was unlikely to live up to the movie that’d been playing in my head for the past 25 years. It was also a big bond between my late mother and I. A quote from this musical is on her headstone. It was a solid effort, I did cry, and yes, Anne Hathaway, as much as I am not a fan, was amazing and should walk away with the Oscar.
The Woman in Black – another property from the theatre that I almost feel too close to. When I saw this on the stage in London in 1999 it was easily the scariest thing I’d ever seen, play or otherwise. The movie had some good chilis too but ultimately couldn’t quite live up to the stage experience still indelibly etched in my mind.
Trishna – inspired by Thomas Hardy, it is naturally bleak, but still involving and heartbreaking.
The Grey – perhaps the manliest movie of all time, the ambiguity of the ending really stuck with me, especially the music cue that accompanied it “Alpha”, which found its way on to my Best of 2012 Mix.
Cleanskin – a little grisly at times, but a surprisingly deep Sean Bean action film
Careless Love – a small movie from Australia about prostitution, and very good. A near miss of the top ten
The Perks of Being a Wallflower – the book was deeply affecting, the movie was good too
Ted – very funny, but just can’t quite put it in the top ten
Cloud Atlas – nice try
Pitch Perfect – a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours while your car is being inspected.
Delicacy – Audrey Tautou, luminous as ever.

Actor – Denzel Washington, Flight
Actress – Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks
Supporting Actor – Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike
Supporting Actress – Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Director – Ben Affleck, Argo

Also Good –
A Happy Event
Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy
Private Peaceful

Arrietty (Studio Ghibli)
Love (Chinese film)
The Master
Damsels in Distress
Safe House
Take This Waltz
Don’t Think

The Worst –
Battleship
Safe
The Raven
Rock of Ages
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
This Is 40 (hey remember the two least likable people from a five-year old comedy? They got their own movie!)
The Amazing Spider-Man (not bad per se, just utterly pointless)
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (I wanted to like it but it was just incoherent)
The Man with the Iron Fists (one of the worst edited movies I’ve ever seen)
John Carter (you know it’s a bad sign when a Martian spacedog with no dialogue is your only memorable character)

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2012: The Road Goes On Forever

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Well, here it is, my long-awaited Best of 2012 Mix. As usual, it is timed out to fit on a single CD. The link to download is here.

Here is the tracklisting…

1. Just Jack – “Rims of Doom”
2. High Contrast – “The Road Goes On Forever (One Minute to Midnight Extended Mix)”
3. Keane – “On the Road”
4. The Soundtrack of Our Lives – “When We Fall”
5. The Killers – “Runaways”
6. Adele – “Skyfall”
7. Jake Bugg – “Broken”
8. Tribes – “Corner of an English Field”
9. Susanna Hoffs – “Picture Me”
10. Steve Kazee & Cristin Milioti – “Falling Slowly (Reprise)”
11. Garfunkel & Oates – “I Would Never (Have Sex With You)”
12. Mumford & Sons – “I Will Wait”
13. Folks – “Where Does the White Go?”
14. Spector – “Celestine”
15. Adrian Crowley – “Fortune Teller Song”
16. Blur – “The Puritan”
17. Nels Andrews – “Barroom Bards”
18. Phenomenal Cat – “Postcards from the British Empire”
19. Marc Streitenfeld – “Alpha”
20. Bruce Springsteen – “Wrecking Ball”

I may do liner notes later, I do have plenty to say about most of these tracks. If there’s an overall theme it’s travel (I left the country for the first time in five years in 2012, twice) and just moving on in general. Looking forward and not back.

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Why I Am Quitting Adam Carolla

WHY I’M QUITTING ADAM CAROLLA

Today, Adam Carolla got in hot water for comments made to the New York Post regarding female comedians, and how he believes ‘dudes are funnier than chicks’. Countless people, male and female, have responded mainly via Twitter with their disapproval. Andy Richter has been retweeting female comedians’ retorts. His comments have been blown up, and most people seem to have omitted his following line stating his admiration for Tina Fey and other female comedians. And his comments about female writers being the least funny members of a sitcom writing staff probably stem from bitterness over his recent string of failed pilots for the major networks. Frankly, I am surprised it is these comments that have landed Carolla back in the national comedy conversation, however briefly. He has said much, much worse on his daily podcast. Not just about the feminine sense of humor but on all kinds of topics, but I’ll cover that later. For the record, I disagree with his comments. Funny is funny, regardless of gender, race, creed, class, or whatever.

I have been a fan of Carolla’s for a very long time, around 18 years I’d estimate. I first knew him as Mr. Birchum on the KROQ Kevin & Bean morning show circa 1994. Then, I followed him on to Loveline, both radio and TV, his two short lived TV series in 2005, his switch to morning radio in 2006, and finally his podcast starting in 2009. I’ve stuck with him through a lot, and he has given me endless hours of laughter, joy, and comfort. When I moved to Providence in 2007, podcasts of his radio show kept me company through those first few lonely months. I didn’t know a soul, but I had a friend running in my ear for nearly 3 hours a day. On the dark side, if there is such thing as a comedy addiction, this was it.

However, as you probably noticed in my Don Draper alluding post title, I am quitting Adam Carolla. I deleted the remaining podcasts I had on my iPod, and removed his app from my iPhone. His comments today were not even really the final straw, however repugnant. Let me explain, ironically in a rant of my own. For about the past year or so several things about his show had started to really bug me. Instead of being a funny curmudgeon, or, as my brother eloquently put it once, ‘he does not suffer the indignities of life quietly’, he has morphed into a bitter, angry soul spewing ugly, vitriolic rants day after day. It’s not necessarily that I disagree with the majority of these rants; it is that they are not funny, and are filled with genuine bile and hatred. He has a complete lack of patience or understanding with the world, and a total lack of empathy. He sees the world in very black and white terms, across all matters of life. If you don’t like a film or musician he likes than you are wrong, simple as that, no room for debate or growth. Some of his more abject statements of late: employers should be able to fire female employees who become pregnant, and a completely unacceptable defense of boxers who engage in domestic violence. (If there was a final straw that was probably it, just repellent.) Elsewhere he has a total lack of interest in his guests, often cutting them off so he can retell a story for the 100th time and abruptly ending interviews after five minutes so he can get back to ranting about the world. He has not made a new cultural reference since the late ‘90s, always with the same old, tired examples and talking points. (My Don Draper reference would have been completely lost on him, for example) Why was I listening to this day after day? The comfort and solace that can be found in familiarity, I suppose, but ultimately it crosses a point of no return.

Not to get too navel-gazey, but what does this say about me? Have I matured? Have I outgrown Carolla? Have I grown more sensitive? I’d like to think so, but ultimately I just don’t want to subject my ears to the same old bile and ugliness every day. As I’ve suggested, Carolla has been something like an addiction to me down the years, and like most people who quit smoking or anything else, I am sure I will relapse at some point in the future, and succumb to a craving for some Aceman. But for now, I am saying this is the end of the road.

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2011 in Movies

Here we go, a little late, but let’s get on with it.

Here’s my Top Ten. This would probably be more a ten favorite, rather than outright best. I still have lots I’d like to see but for now this will be it.

10. Black Death
A beyond-bleak tale of plague-ravaged England in 1348, this movie left a big impression on me. In a bad move on my part, I watched this right before going to bed one night. I was genuinely spooked and disturbed. It is graphic, muddy, unflinching, and pretty violent. I don’t usually like that combination in movies, but this one worked. I thought it would be a standard sword-and-horses actioner but it’s more a medieval Apocalypse Now with allusions to The Wicker Man (the original, mercifully) with a deeply religious (appropriate for the era) backdrop. The always-cool Sean Bean anchors things in this intense experience. I can’t say it’s a fun romp but it’s rare that a movie works its way under my skin so effectively, so it deserves its place on this list.

9. Young Adult
Don’t let the less-than-impressive trailer put you off, this was a calm, quiet, confident movie from the same writer/director team of Juno. Gone is that movie’s insufferable cool and tweeness; instead it’s a clear-eyed portrait of a woman who is deeply depressed and deluded. But it has its laughs too. Patton Oswalt is excellent in a supporting role, though to be honest, it’s not that big a stretch from his normal on stage persona. And he surely must have loved his job the day he got to shoot his (SPOILERS!) sex scene with Charlize Theron.

8. The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick has made some of the best movies ever, period. Simple as that. This is only his fifth film, but he’s an unquestioned master of visuals and a genius with atmosphere. This was probably his most personal (who knows, he maintains a dignified silence when it comes to interviews and promotion) film and it is certainly beautiful and a head trip experience. However it lacked the narrative thread that kept previous films like The New World (2005) and Days of Heaven (1978) at a more accessible level. This one spirals out into the cosmos and back. Challenging and often outright baffling, it was still a cinematic experience unlike any other this year.

7. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
A reboot nobody was asking for after Tim Burton’s disastrous 2001 remake killed the franchise for a decade, this turned out to be a late summer surprise blockbuster. Organically mutating from science thriller to domestic drama to prison escape movie to on-the-rampage action, this was an excellent re-imagining of the still-brilliant concept of apes taking over the world, first dreamed up by French novelist Pierre Boule in the early 60s. There were some clever allusions to the original five films, and definitely leaves you clamoring for the next entry after it ends on something of a cliffhanger. Bring it on.

6. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Another pleasant surprise, this was a lively sequel to the 2009 film that re-imagined The Great Detective as a 19th century James Bond. I liked that film but it had largely slipped from the memory banks until this offered itself up on a Christmas Eve matinee. Going beyond the first film’s London-only environs, it is a charming Victorian romp across a Europe hurtling toward war. Though filled with genuinely excellent action sequences it all ends with a low key chess match, and it works. Any resemblance to the original canon ends with the character names, it’s really the film The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen should have been.

5. My Week with Marilyn
Quickly forgotten after early Oscar buzz for Michelle Williams seemed to fizzle, it was more of a right time, right place kind of movie for me. I woke up late on a Sunday, in the mood for a movie. This was playing at the theater within walking distance of my apartment, so I decided it fit the bill. It was a pleasant but melancholy story of a quiet young man eager to please, willing to listen, and simply able to be there; traits not many people have. I could definitely identify with the main character’s infatuation with unbridled femininity, when a smile and a coy look reduces your critical thinking skills to mush. Guilty as charged. The impeccable British cast (except Williams of course) nails it as well.

4. Sucker Punch
A movie that you either love or hate. Most people seemed to hate it. My best friend put it at #2 on his WORST of the year list, despite it featuring some of his favorite ingenues scantily clad for most of the running time. But I dug it, I bought into the world it created, and the levels-within-levels storytelling. One thing I greatly appreciated was that this was actually an original creation. Yes it wears its influences on its sleeve, but this was not another adaptation of a graphic novel, TV show, old movie, or anime that was foisted upon a weary public. It also had probably my favorite quote out of any movie this year (SPOILERS)
Here are some more eloquent defenses of the film:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scott-mendelson/more-thoughts-in-defense_b_842183.html
http://www.slashfilm.com/defense-sucker-punch-uncovering-method-zack-snyders-madness/
http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/138808-glam-slamdunk-in-defense-of-sucker-punch
http://www.shewired.com/box-office/defense-sucker-punch

3. Midnight in Paris
A movie about nostalgia, pure and simple. It is very nostalgic itself. It is in love with nostalgia. But it is also weary of nostalgia. It teaches the lesson that every generation has it’s golden era that it fondly looks back on. Owen Wilson’s Woody stand-in looks back to the Lost Generation 1920s. Through whimsy and imagination, he ends up back there, only to discover the Jazz Age inhabitants pining for the belle epoque of the 1890s. And so on, and so on. A simple message, an arguably a trifle of a movie, but it leaves you with a warm, satisfied glow. The cinematic equivalent of a delicious croissant.

2. The Descendants
The always reliable Alexander Payne delivers another sharp, funny, melancholic gem. A master of setting and character, he eases us into a slow-paced but involving story of a family dealing with sudden loss in sunny Hawaii. The beyond-paradise scenery, the slovenly dressing, the languid atmosphere all work to create a wonderful film that carries more emotional heft than expected. I, too, had to deal with a sudden and very painful loss in 2011, and this film really spoke to me on that level, but in an understanding, non-patronizing or schmaltzy way.

1. 50/50
In all honesty this was really tied with The Descendants, but ultimately I’ll give the slightest of nods to this film. In the parlance of the title, it was 51/49. At times unbelievable (a therapist would NEVER, EVER date their patient) it was still a touching, straightforward story of an average nice guy handed a huge curveball by life, and how he copes with the complications that ensue. Some couldn’t seem to move past the fact that this was a second Seth Rogen cancer comedy (after 2009’s equally superb and underrated Funny People), but by the end I was a heap of cathartic tears.

Some random categories:

Best Documentary – Senna
Great, but if only I cared about more baseball… – Moneyball
Best Cast – Tailor Tinker Soldier Spy
Most Welcome Return – The Muppets
Best IMAX – Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Most Ridiculously Entertaining – Fast Five
Most Overrated – Bridesmaids
Most Pretty but also Most Boring – Hugo
How to make one of the most fascinating events in American history and turn it into a dull, tedious experience – The Conspirator
The Macgruber Award for reviled-now-but-destined-for-cable-greatness – Your Highness
Also Underrated – The Rum Diary
Good, but should’ve been better – War Horse
Best Supporting Actor – Corey Stoll, Midnight in Paris
Other movies I liked and would give a general thumbs up to – The Artist, Submarine, Brighton Rock, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Attack the Block

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2011: Record Machine

2011 sucked. There’s no other way to put it. The year started with a devastating personal loss that I still haven’t really recovered from, and was followed by months of depression and unemployment (which were already problems.) I started working again in July, but there has still been a definite feeling of uncertainty and sadness hanging over me.

Music, usually a source of much comfort, escape, and pleasure in the past, wasn’t really that big a factor in things this year. I’d say about 75% what I did listen to were podcasts; comedy (Adam Carolla, Pretty Good Podcast, Totally Laime, Doug Loves Movies), soccer (Guardian Football Weekly, BBC World Footbal Phone-In), or history (New Books in History, BBC Witness.) I guess this is the 21st century equivalent of switching your car stereo over to AM. Listening in on in-depth human conversations on topics I was interested in by people whose pseudo-company I enjoyed was much more of a comfort to me than listening to music.

All that being said, when I did to listen to music it was to already-established favorites (60s mod and psychedelic, 90s Britpop, and the contemporary purveyors of such) that I went to. Listening to my mix probably won’t unearth any hidden gems; most of my picks were singles and songs that received some kind of exposure (how else would I have heard them if I wasn’t putting in the effort on my end) though there are a few exceptions where I went with an album track over a single. Perhaps most telling is that as I’ve read over other various Top Tens of the Year and Best of Playlists, not only do I not recognize the vast majority of names on them, I don’t really care to.

Alright, that’s enough negativity, on to the tunes that did move me in some way this year. The format is the same as years past; I’ve kept it to CD length, and sequenced it to play as such. (Actually, according to iTunes, this clocks in at 1:20:01 but it’d be easy with some slight post-production trimming to bring it under the limit.)

You can download it here:

http://www.divshare.com/download/16403959-1fb

And here are the liner notes…(click on the song title to hear)

1. Aaron Tveit, Jr. – “Goodbye” from Catch Me If You Can: The Musical

In the summer, just before going back to work, I had the opportunity to visit New York City with my sister and her family. All of us Broadway aficionados, it meant a lot of shows, which was fine by me. Musicals remind me of my childhood and continue to be a good source of escapism when things are down. While on this trip I did have the surreal pleasure of seeing Rock of Ages with Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez seated directly in front of me, but the next night I went off by myself to see the musical adaptation of Frank Abagnale, Jr’s entertaining story of his years as a fleet-footed con man in the 60s. (My sister and company went to see Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark) Already a successful book and 2002 film, the musical was an enjoyable, light-on-its-feet jaunt through the time period, with pleasing 60s design and era-aping tunes. This song, however, came at the end, when Frank decides to give up his transient life on the run, and do his time. He is saying goodbye to his wastrel youth; it is sad and wistful, reluctant but accepting. This is a feeling I’ve shared for much of the year. It is the penultimate song of the show, but I felt it’s a good track to start with, beginning at the end.

2. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – “(I Wanna Live In A Dream In My) Record Machine”

On August 29, 2009, backstage at a festival in Paris, France, Oasis, my favorite band of all time, dissolved. Noel and Liam Gallagher had had their last blow-up. Two bands emerged in 2011 from the wreckage; Beady Eye (Liam and the rest of the final line-up) and this (Noel and friends.) Beady Eye came out first but they will be addressed at the end of the mix. Noel’s album showed he still has the undeniable gift of writing the best choruses you’ll ever hear and will be humming for ages. While lacking the swagger and snarl of Oasis (perhaps for the better), it was a back-to-front masterpiece of 10 nearly perfect songs. This one was the track that immediately jumped out at me; it had its origins in the latter days of Oasis, and gets the full treatment here. As skyscraping a chorus as you can imagine this was a magnificent statement of intent. Admittedly it kind of has an anticlimactic coda (I want that hair-raising chorus just one more time!) but for those few seconds when the power chords are hit, the strings swoop in and Noel’s voice soars, all is right with the world.

3. Cast – “See That Girl”

The year’s other most welcome return for me musically was the reformation of Cast, an underrated Britpop band that broke up in 2001 after the bizarre, fan-alienating Beetroot record (which I actually liked.) Ten years on, founder John Power (bassist of The La’s), got the old crew back together and recorded a delightful new album of Mersey pop. It’s unlikely they’ll get to the States (I don’t think they got over here the first time around either) with this release but I love it and has been my most listened to record after the two Oasis offshoots.

4. The Rifles – “Tangled Up in Love” 

Another straight-ahead Britrock outfit, this song has provided the bed music of countless soccer highlights, and it does work its way into your head quite effectively. To be honest, I don’t really have much else to say on this, just a good tune.

5. Babybird – “Jesus Stag Night Club”

Stephen Jones was on last year’s mix and returned again with another fine record of clever, catchy arch pop, of which this was the leadoff track. I especially dig the “Sympathy for the Devil” echoing ‘woo-woos‘.

6. Deer Tick – “Let’s All Go To The Bar”

A loving nod to my surrounding environs, this is a Providence band that has achieved some national and even international recognition. A rollicking tribute to this town’s appetite for the hard stuff that is fun… and accurate.🙂

7. The Vaccines – “Wetsuit”

Hotly tipped by the UK press at the start of the year, these Londoners mainly kept up the rock end of things with a short, sharp record that barely cracked 30 minutes. This, an elegiac tribute to carefree summers of youth, was my favorite track, though somewhat misrepresentative of their hard-driving sound. The Instagram video is lovely as well.

8. Coldplay – “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”

Coldplay get a lot of flack from the hipster music community, but it seemed like some were starting to come around. The reviews for their album were mostly positive. I read a comparison that finally put a finger on their appeal; they’re the new ABBA. Shamelessly melodic, lush, loads of mass-appeal, often a guilty behind-closed-doors pleasure for people., and they will probably get a lot more critical respect in the future. I agree, though I’ve never been particularly shameful of my genuine like of them. This song was a big one for me when it came out in June, and effectively soundtracks my memory of the Stanley Cup Finals of this year, which my beloved Vancouver Canucks made for only the third time in their 40+ year history. They’re still Cup-less after losing a dispiriting seven game series to the Boston Bruins, which put me at odds with my adopted region for much of the summer. Still, many a pleasant, early summer’s evening stroll (but back in time for face-off!) was spent with this on the earbuds.

9. Elbow – “Lippy Kids”

Elbow are a band whose mass-appeal (in the UK at least) I’ve never really quite shared. Occasionally they have a good anthem, and I was a legitimate fan of their 2003 record Cast of Thousands, but how they continue to be festival darlings and seeming British cultural touchstones eludes me. Still, I did like this atmospheric slow burner, whose chorus gave their album its title.

10. The Crookes – “The Crookes Laundry Murders, 1922”

A band that that so desperately wants to be the Smiths it hurts, just look at that title. They don’t quite have the tunes yet, but it’s still early days. I did like this forlorn story song about an infamous murder case in interwar Britain. Crookes is a neighborhood in Sheffield where they hail from, BTW.

11. Cornershop – “Once There Was A Wintertime”

Another long term favorite of mine, the ‘shop released an album this year with Bubbley Kaur, a Punjabi singer. Admittedly a little of this goes a long way but this track was a highlight for me; dig the Bacharachian horns, even if they are chopped up quite a bit.

12. The Kooks – “Junk of the Heart (Happy)”

An undeniable, brilliant single, admittedly the parent album didn’t quite live up to the lofty expectations it raised. It was OK, but kind of samey and nothing as memorable as this slice of pop perfection.

13. Viva Brother – “New Year’s Day”

Bloke rock to the extreme, this slinky rocker is very ear-wormy. One of only three concerts I attended all year (the two Oasis offshoots being the others.)

14. Brett Anderson – “This Must Be Where It Ends”

One of the delights of this year was the deluxe reissue treatment the Suede back catalog received. Singer Brett Anderson also quietly put out his best solo album to top it off. His previous solo efforts were wispy, melancholy affairs that were pretty much in one ear out the other. This one however was his most Suede-y and with the news that a proper new Suede album is in the works (which would be the first in a decade) this is a pleasing signpost of what could be one of the great comebacks of next year. Let’s hope the title of this song does not come true.

15. Snow Patrol – “Life-ning”

Another band that gets a lot of critical scorn, but pleases the masses and myself, this awkwardly titled mellow number was my favorite track from their album, describing the things he wants in life. I especially like the line “Ireland in the World Cup/Either north or south” It’s not the World Cup, but the Republic of Ireland (i.e. the south) will be at EURO 2012 next summer, their first major tournament appearance since the 2002 World Cup.

16. Death Cab for Cutie – “You Are A Tourist”

I was largely indifferent to the Death Cab album this year, but I did quite like this, the lead single. Moody but melodic. Cool one-take video too.

17. The View – “Best Lasts Forever”

A Scottish band that I’ve been aware of for a while but never really listened to much before, their record Bread and Circuses really caught my ear, and was one of my favorites. Opening track “Grace” was slated to kick off this mix for a long time, but eventually this big, sweeping happy sing-a-long took its place.

18. Adele – “Someone Like You”

Easily the musical phenomenon on either side of the Atlantic this year, I was certainly not immune to this album‘s, and specifically this song’s, heart-rending appeal. Its tear-inducing effect even got its own Saturday Night Live sketch. I debated including this as it would almost seem redundant, it being so ubiquitous this year, but it deserves its place nonetheless. Many was the day where I would hear this on the cafeteria radio at lunch and would be in a funk the rest of the afternoon no matter what I put on to try and counter it. Something so powerful can’t be denied.

19. Beady Eye – “Wigwam”

Returning to the other band to rise from the ashes of Oasis, this epic was the highlight of Liam’s record for me (though the perfect 2-minute “For Anyone” was a close second). The album itself was full of blustery, bluesy rock n roll chock full of attitude. Some of it brilliant, some it forgettable. Hearing this track live took it up another notch though, the big build up before the final sing-a-long kicks in (around 2:20-3:50 here) is etched in my concert-going history book. One note: be sure to lower the volume before this track starts, this is easily the loudest damned mastered album I’ve ever heard. I lost count of how many times I jumped when a track from it would come up on random and bludgeon my ears.

Enjoy everyone!

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2010: And Now It’s All This…

Here is a link to download…

http://www.divshare.com/download/13455642-388

Welcome to my 2010 best-of mix CD. In this day and age it is kind of ridiculous to still think of a CD length in terms of mix-making (quick, what was the last CD you actually purchased?) , but I like the challenge of making a musical statement, with beginning, middle, and end, in the self-imposed limit of 80 minutes, which once again I have just about filled up with this year’s selection. No prizes for guessing what my personal favorite event of the year was, with three tracks tied to it, the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

The title of this year’s mix comes from a John Lennon quote, who would have turned 70 this year. The quote is used as the main sample in track 19 of this mix. And now here is a track-by-track run-through.

1. Jarvis Cocker – “Belton House – Walking on Gravel & Birds”.
A curious record released by the once and future Pulp front man. Ambient noise from various National Trust sites around England. I like short little introductory tracks to start these things and this one fits the bill, as well as the short time span allotted after the 19 other tracks had been locked down. It’s quite pleasant to listen to, just an unusual release.

2. K’Nann – “Waving Flag” (Coca-Cola Celebration Mix)
This one is a bit of a cheat, since this song dates from 2008, but it was picked by Coke to be the signature song of their World Cup campaign, and K’Naan, a Canadian rapper originally from Somalia, obligingly re-recorded a new version with new lyrics. It’s literally a flag-waver and a grand positive way to kick off the mix proper.

3. One Night Only – “Say You Don’t Want It”
ONO are a fairly middle of the road English rock band who come up with catchy singles such as this one. Their singer dated Emma Watson, of Harry Potter fame, and she appeared in the video for this track, showing the then-happy couple larking about New York City. Coincidentally Ms. Watson is a student at my former employers Brown University, and I have spotted her twice on the streets of Providence’s leafy East Side.

4. Eels – “Mansions of Los Feliz”
A nice hymn to the Los Angeles neighborhood where my father grew up. Eels released two albums this year; one depressed, one happy. Guess which one this comes from. Though it is specifically about the shut-in nature of certain Los Angelenos I can certainly relate to the ‘my-little-empire’ attitude one develops when you spend a lot of time cooped up in your living space. Coincidentally as I type this it is below freezing outside in Providence.

5. Infant Sorrow – “Going Up”
This is comedian Russell Brand in his fictional guise as debauched British rock star Aldus Snow in the film Get Him To The Greek. Often a secret weapon of music-based comedies is that the music itself is actually quite good and can stand on its own. You can still pump a semi-ironic fist to Spinal Tap’s “Hell-Hole” or enjoy Dewey Cox out-Dylan Dylan with his baffling “Royal Jelly.” And if there was a better hands-in-the-air rock anthem this year than this one, I’d like to hear it.

6. Belle and Sebastian – “I Didn’t See It Coming”
While it may be rude to call this a comeback, it was the Belles first proper record since early 2006’s The Life Pursuit, and this leadoff track signaled a supreme return to the fray. I still get chills when Stuart comes in with the wonderful lyric “Make me dance/I want to surrender” at 3:47. It was the orgasmic “Go Let It Out” climax moment of the year. This is probably my favorite overall track of 2010.

7. The Divine Comedy – “The Complete Banker”
Similar to B&S, this was The Divine Comedy’s (really singer/songwriter/genius Neil Hannon) first proper album since 2006. It is my favorite record of 2010; a dazzling tuneful, exploration of life in these times, highlighted by this biting character sketch of the reckless, carefree financial industry that has pretty much screwed the world over and laughed all the way to their beach homes scot-free. Any of the other 11 tracks could have easily made it on to this mix as well. Please don’t stay away so long next time, Neil. Bonus points for Album Cover of the Year too.

8. Two Door Cinema Club – “Do You Want It All”
A spunky band from Ireland, TDDC released some catchy singles, though this wasn’t one of them. An album track, I feel this song surpasses their other releases. Generally, I am unmoved by the spiky post-punk sound of modern indie rock that has been in vogue for the past few years, but this song is a wonderful exception.

9. Vampire Weekend – “Horchata”
Sophomore slumps can end careers prematurely, but this smart outfit successfully sidestepped the second album curse with the sterling Contra. This track kicked off the album and showed a confident, expansive sound, but still in service to melody. Good songs are still the key. Another example where plenty of other songs could have made the cut. One of the best of the year.

10. Kate Nash – “Do-Wah-Doo”
Snarky English songbird Kate Nash also body swerved the sophomore slump with her album this year. Arguably an improvement on her 2007 debut, her 2010 record was loaded with instantly catchy gems such as this. Producer Bernard Butler, former Suede guitar swami, has reinvented himself as a pseudo-Spectorian maestro of big wall-of-sound backed chanteuses. (See also: Duffy). Let’s just hope he doesn’t have a gun collection he likes to show off.

11. Pitbull, TKZee, and Dario G – “Game On”
Back to the event of the year, this upbeat dancer is labeled as the Official Song of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Mascot. Who that was I can’t tell you off the top of my head, but his tune is a catchy one that makes me want to grab my ball and find the nearest pitch for a kickabout, which I suppose is the point.

12. The Len Price 3 – “Mr. Grey”
From way back in January, the English pop punk band released another short, sharp album that was fun to rock out to while on the walk home from work, back when I was employed. I like tracks like this which have a bouncy, upbeat feel with a big catchy chorus and Sgt Pepper trumpets, but then you listen to the lyrics and you realize its about a marriage disintegrating and the resultant suicide. Good times.

13. Kula Shaker – “Peter Pan R.I.P.”
Britpop survivors and hipster punching bags, the Shake actually quietly released one of the best records of the year; a dark, mystical exploration of English pastoral life. Almost no one takes them seriously anymore, if they ever did, and you won’t find this record anywhere near any year-end best-of lists except mine. I liked them a lot then, and I like them maybe even more now. Completely un-self-conscious, forever destined to be uncool and outside of step with modern music (except for a few weeks in 1996), I’ll continue supporting them.

14. Ocean Colour Scene – “Twenty-One”
I could pretty much copy and paste what I said about Kula Shaker and it would apply to OCS. Britpop survivors, terminally uncool, they keep chugging along and quietly putting out solid records with good songs and pleasing their loyal fan base. Nothing wrong with that. They were particularly productive in 2010, releasing another pretty good album, and a career retrospective box set, the latter of which this is the new offering and title track. Carry on, my good sirs.

15. Babybird – “Failed Suicide Club”
Hmm, I’m sensing a pattern here. Yet another Britpop survivor who keeps on keepin’ on. As you may be able to tell, Britpop (the mid 90s explosion in laddish rock bands from England) had an enormous influence on me personally and I am still in thrall to the various masters of it, with their unwavering commitment to melody and sense of grandeur. Particularly this year I returned to it in spades, uncovering several buried gems from the original era, and joyfully discovering what the progenitors of the movement were up to today. And it’s still quite good, thank you very much, as I feel this simultaneously sad, upbeat song proves.

16. Elephant Stone – “Savage Soul”
While fellow Montreal-ians Arcade Fire released a sprawling record this year to much acclaim, I actually found it to be dull, without balls, and tuneless; frankly a major disappointment having been a fan of their first two records. On the other hand this largely unknown band from the same city released an EP that far exceeded it, concluding with this rocking sitar-bedecked number. Love the Stone Roses reference with their name too.

17. Ed Harcourt – “So I’ve Been Told”
Ah, it wouldn’t be a Ted Knowles mix without the master. Ed returned this year with, again, a first proper album since 2006. I originally was going to use “A Secret Society” this year, a much more rocking song from him, but then he does these booze-soaked, sad-eyed piano laments just so beautifully. This one from the perspective of a person wasting away in a mental institution. Getting to meet Ed and tell him personally how much his music means to me when he came through Boston as an opener for James was definitely a highlight for me this year.

18. Shakira – “Waka Waka (This Time For Africa)” (K Mix)
The third and final track saluting the World Cup. While the quality of play wasn’t the best I’ve seen from this tournament, I still can’t help getting an all-encompassing warm happy glow when I think of it; this feeling is no better summed up than by this rousing remix of the official song. When I hear this I think of everyone dancing and cheering together, smiles all around, and Andres Iniseta peeling away in celebration having scored the tournament winner for the just champions, Spain.

19. The Brian Jonestown Massacre – “Felt Tipped Pictures of UFOs”
Perhaps the strangest track on this mix, I love this 10 minute ambient piece from the L.A. hell raisers, sampling John Lennon and then a Scouse bird who doesn’t much care for his worldview. It his hypnotic and beautiful, and I can’t stop listening to it, I usually have to go through all 10 minutes of it when it comes up on the iPod. Note – not safe for children’s ears.

20. Yann Tiersen – “Fuck Me”
A late addition to the mix, this is a nice grand-summation closing track from the evolving French multi-instrumentalist. He popped into my world when his mostly instrumental music was used as a de facto score to my favorite film Amelie in 2001. I gathered his records and listened to them endlessly over the next few years, but admittedly I haven’t really followed him much since he started to morph into a modern rock guy. He doesn’t have much of a voice and I probably still prefer his earlier stuff but this is a good , if R-rated, conclusion to the mix and the year.

Hope you all like it! Here’s to a better 2011, even if there’s no World Cup or even a EURO to look forward to.

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The Onion AV Club Questionnaire and The Girl in the Dirty Shirt

One of my favorite running features in the Onion A.V. Club is what they call AVQ&A, where each of the regular staffers answer some pop-culture related question. Being professional pop culture writers they answer at length and go off on amusing tangents with each weekly question.

There is a new one each Friday, and while enjoying today’s (What’s your favorite deep album cut?) I thought, this would be an interesting thing to answer myself. So I copy-and-pasted each of the questions into a document and came up with…The Onion A.V. Club Questionnaire.

Some of the questions were time-specific, so I did some tweaking to make them more evergreen. I will answer some of these from time to time, but with 71 questions, unless I did it rapid fire style, I can’t do them all in one blast. So please, feel free to comment with your own responses, or just go off and think of them on your own.

To the AV Club themselves, please consider this an homage to your brilliant forum and witty writing. In other words, I hope you don’t sue or cry plagiarism. Pretty please…

And here it is…

Wait, one quick note: I answer #21 at length after the list.

1. What movie have you spent the most time arguing about?

2. What would you name your imaginary band?

3. What was the first album you bought with your own money?

4. What was your most embarrassing early celebrity crush?

5. What’s your most-rewatched movie?

6. What album have you spent the most time arguing about?

7. What one book would you most like to make the rest of the world read?

8. What canceled-before-its-time TV show do you miss the most?

9. What is the best live music show you’ve ever been to?

10. What was your most memorable Halloween costume?

11. Do you have a well-known film/album/show that you’ve specifically resisted from viewing, etc. for whatever reason?

12. What was your most disappointing concert experience?

13. What are your pop-culture “sacred cows”? What entertainment opinions do you consider so inarguable that attempts to argue the subject provoke instant rage or frustration?

14. What is the worst movie-watching experience you’ve had in another person’s company (be it a date, your parents, classmates, etc.)?

15. What piece of pop culture do you most fondly remember looking forward to at the time?

16. What band, currently broken up but still alive, would you do anything to see play one last live show?

17. What are your pop-culture guilty pleasures? Nothing that you’re proud to be different about—nothing based out of nostalgia, irony, or a love of kitsch or camp.

18. If you could make a single book, film, or album required material to graduate from high school, what would it be?

19. What handful of songs would you put on a mix-tape for someone you love or are trying to woo?

20.What’s your most treasured pop-cultural possession?

21. Are there “deep cuts” you wish artists had released as singles so the rest of the world knew how great those album songs were?

22. Maybe you never understood why critics go apeshit for The Velvet Underground and Nico. Or maybe you didn’t think that No Country For Old Men was that great. Whatever it is, everyone has at least one work of art that they just don’t understand the hype about. What are yours?

23. Who is your all-time favorite bad-ass from television or film?

24. Are there any actors, directors, etc. who you now consider blacklisted because of a particular work or group of works? Is there anyone you will take a lifetime pass on?

25. What songs/bands that you used to like can you not listen to anymore because of the memories you associate with them? I’m thinking along the lines of the favorite band of an ex that broke your heart, a dead friend’s favorite song, and/or the song that was playing when you got some particularly bad news.

26. Which artist gets a lifetime pass from you, whatever else he/she may do?

27. Which works of fiction create a world (or a version of reality) that you’d consider most enjoyable to live in?

28.What’s your favorite album of 2010 so far?

29. Looking ahead to July 4th: “What part of pop-culture makes you proudest to be an American?”

30.Who would you say represents us as “our Beatles,” or the Great American Rock Band?

31. What pieces of entertainment have authentically frightened you?

32. When did you each first individually realize that you were pop-culture geeks?” Which is to say, the first time we realized we cared about some facet of the entertainment world maybe a little more than our friends, or a little more than was necessarily appropriate as far as those around us were concerned.

33. What are your best pop-culture-related memories of the past decade?

34. What’s your personal pop-culture cause, the thing people always scoff at you for liking and that you always try to convince naysayers to give a first (or second or third) chance to anyway?

35. Have you made any pop-culture pilgrimages?

36. What’s your favorite song? No hedging with three or four. What’s your favorite song? You are allowed to say, “It changes all the time.” But I’m asking you right now.

37. Is there a piece of pop culture that absolutely, 100 percent never fails to make you laugh? (Or at least smile?)

38.What movie/TV show/album/whatever would you like to be able to see/hear again for the first time?

39. What age-inappropriate (or not) movie did you see as a child that scared the shit out of you at the time, but now seems ridiculous?

40.Here’s a Q&A suggestion in two parts—what piece of pop culture will you insist on sharing with your children, and what piece of pop culture was passed down to you from your parents?

41. Which films make you cry?

42. I’m curious about art you didn’t like the first time you consumed it (despite the fact that you felt you “should” like it), but then upon returning to said art after some period of time, something clicked and you just “got it.”

43. What bit of pop-cultural ephemera still sticks in your own personal quote machine that few people get?

44. What are your favorite local advertisements, the ones you and your friends/family remember for years after they aired?

45. What is the one song/band that is summer to you?

46. Did you ever see a video or TV performance from a band that made you fall instantly in love with them?

47. What do you think about when you think about Michael Jackson??

48.What was your first job, and what film/book/song/etc. do you most associate with it?

49. What pieces of pop culture would you like to have displayed at your own wedding? If already married, what music or literature did you have at your wedding?

50. So if someone asked you to recommend a first comic or graphic novel, what would you recommend?

51. What are the websites do you visit when they’re looking to get their procrastination on?

52. What celebrity do you think would make a good best friend?

53. What covers do you dream of hearing? Which filmmaker should adapt what book or short story? What are your ideal artistic collaborations that don’t yet exist?

54. What popular / acclaimed art did you come to too late in life to really enjoy?

55. If you could permanently wipe one cliché—character, plot, anything—from the future of culture, what would it be?

56. What story clichés do you actively enjoy, or at least usually find effective?

57. Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met face to face?

58. was wondering what blind spots you had growing up that an older you wishes you knew about. Is there anything you guys missed out on?

59. Do you guys have any incredibly specific micro-genres that you feel you might be the only fan in the world of?

60.What music do you like to work out to?

61. What entertainment do you specifically seek out when you’re sick and miserable?

62. What’s your “drop everything” movie? The movie that whenever it comes on or you happen across, you have to stop whatever you’re doing and watch it through to the end.

63. Do you have any CDs/films/books that are linked to anything for you personally, and that you try to experience as part of a tradition? For example, a holiday movie you always have to watch around the date.

64. What kind of music/movies/podcasts/TV shows you listen to while working?

65. Do you have any pop-culture resolutions? Is there a genre you finally intend to get into, an artist you want to explore, a book you haven’t read yet but plan to, a movie or filmmaker or movement you’re overdue to experience?

66. What did you feel obligated to watch/read because you didn’t want to miss out on some big cultural thing, even though you knew you’d hate it?

67. What are you a pop-culture completist about? (You own every album and all B-sides, or complete filmography, or bibliography, etc.)

68.Has there ever been something in pop culture you’ve fallen hard out of love with?

69. If you had to choose one Onion article that defined who you are, that you identify with so much that it actually makes you a bit uneasy, which would it be?

70. What are your pop-culture rules? That is, the up-front guidelines that will prevent you from seeing/reading/listening to something, or that will guarantee that you’ll see/read/listen to it even if reviews or word of mouth or past experience with the creators have been negative?

71. Do you ever crave certain foods after watching a particular movie or television show?

Appropriately I will answer today’s question which sparked this idea.

21. Are there “deep cuts” you wish artists had released as singles so the rest of the world knew how great those album songs were?

Oasis – “The Girl in the Dirty Shirt”

Track number six on their infamous 1997 album Be Here Now, this is one of the band’s greatest, most underrated songs. The story goes that chief Oasis songwriter Noel Gallagher walked into a room where his then-wife had recently spilled something on her shirt. She was mortified and embarrassed, but Noel laughed and said something to the effect of “I love you, why would I care if your shirt was dirty?” The proverbial light bulb went off over his head, and a new song from his prolific, possibly-substance-fueled mind was born.

With a stuttering intro and a 12-bar blues beat, vaguely recalling their own “Shakermaker”, at first things seems like it will go into middling mid tempo rock territory. But then a light-heared, easygoing keyboard pops up and we segue nicely into Liam Gallagher’s unmistakable voice:

If I may be so bold that I just say something
Come and make me my day
The clouds around your soul
Don’t gather there for nothing

Suddenly it becomes clear what this song is. It is a courtship; an old-fashioned word but it fits splendidly. A guy likes a girl and knows her life is stressed, and he wants nothing more than to cheer her up, make her feel loved, to experience joy. However, in the following lines that working class, how shall we say, directness, comes into the equation, not to mention sense of humor.

Why d’you need a reason for to feel happy
Or shining for the rest of the world
Give me just a smile and would you make it snappy
Get your shit together girl

Perhaps that s-bomb would have made it problematic as a single but it seems very quickly after this time that profanity became the norm in pop music. Just quietly dropped from the radio edits of countless hit singles.

Next we go into the bridge, where our hero continues to prod the apple of his eye to find out what is bothering her. The piano happily chugs along with a jangly vaguely Bryds-ian guitar line, and Noel throws in a gentle, questioning guitar chord, almost as if asking “What’s wrong?” We build (something Oasis are bloody masters at) and build then we get to the glorious, happy-go-lucky infectious chorus:

Is would you maybe, come dancing with me
Cos to me it doesn’t matter
If your hopes and dreams are shattered
When you say something you make me believe
In the girl who wears a dirty shirt

It gets me every time, that simple romantic optimism. “Maybe…she’ll come dancing with me.” That’s all, nothing more. Let’s have a little fun, let’s go out, let’s be with friends. Who cares if you’re not at your best, life is for living. As someone who has experienced and continues to fight depression, I can testify that simply leaving the house is often the hardest part. But once you are out, you’re out, and things usually get better. And if that’s in the company of someone you fancy, well, all the better! Musically, Noel’s sliding guitar chord flips around to become a warm, welcoming arm around the shoulder.We happily waltz along and back into a second verse:

If you ever find yourself inside a bubble
You’ve gotta make your own way home
You can call me anytime you’re seeing double
Now you know you’re not alone

When I go through my depressive spells, pretty much the last thing I want to do is talk to someone. But here is someone saying, ‘I know it’s hard but you can call me anytime. I’m always there for you. My love and attention are unconditional.’ That is something to be treasured. The titular girl should be cheered up at least by the fact of that warm embrace. From here we go into the same bridge, and back into the wonderful, swinging chorus. No time for a guitar solo, we carry on straight into the coda; a good-times 1 and a half minute jam. When I hear this part I always picture a nice pub or party where people are hanging around having a good time; smiles and flirts are exchanged, happiness is in the air. It reminds me of this painting Le Moulin de la Galette by Pierre-Auguste Renoir:

This is 1876 Paris, but that same vibe is palpable. Any gathering of friends where happiness, joy, and love are the order of the day. Renoir and Oasis may seem unlikely bedfellows, but they share some striking similarities. Both were very successful in their time, commericially and, somewhat grudgingly, critically. They remain popular enough today but are often dismissed as intellectually lightweight by critics (i.e. joyless snobs.) ‘Chocolate box art’ is the usual insult hurled at Renoir; ‘pub rock bollocks’ for Oasis (actually Noel said that himself about this album, which he annoyingly believes his critics on and often derides in hindsight.)

The monograph I have of Renoir is subtitled The Painter of Happiness. “The Girl in the Dirty Shirt” has made me happy for 12, coming up on 13, years. What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding? (another bloody brilliant song while we’re at it) Must everything be miserable? Renoir was asked why he painted such light-hearted subjects. I’m paraphrasing here but he replied: “There are enough ugly things in the world, I do not wish to add to their numbers.” He lived from 1841 to 1919; that is quite a chunk of history. He saw his country invaded on more than one occasion, not to mention numerous bloody revolutions.

What was I talking about again? Oh yeah, “The Girl in the Dirty Shirt”. Would it have worked as a single and been a hit? Maybe. But it would have shown the world a more playful, less bombastic, less macho side of the band. Instead, the band released the by-the-numbers ballad “Don’t Go Away” (but still affecting), and the flag-waving 9 minute epic “All Around the World” and critics wrote them off as bloated has-beens who missed their shot at glory. I don’t care about that. I love Oasis. I love Be Here Now. And I love “The Girl in the Dirty Shirt.”

p.s. – the song is so buried in their catalogue that it was performed in public exactly once. In Dublin in 1997 on a night when Liam couldn’t be bothered to sing, and Noel dutifully took over. ‘This one’s for the missus…” is what he says at the beginning.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhWhqfH-Rig

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