Covering “Under Pressure”

This is pretty awesome with with three guys on an acoustic guitar.

  

Queen: Days of Our Lives

The big selling point of “Days of Our Lives,” the exhaustive two-hour BBC documentary on epic rock quartet Queen, is the material culled from the band’s very early days and their very last days. There are live performances from Smile, the group guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor formed before Queen, and some video of future singer Fredde Mercury singing “Big Spender.” The later footage, shot on the sets of the last music videos Mercury would perform, his body slowly but surely being ravaged by AIDS, are at once heart-warming and devastating. Mercury was positively gaunt, yet he gathered every ounce of will he could muster to go out fighting.

May and Taylor are wonderfully candid in their interviews, as are fellow managers, producers, roadies, and side men they recruited. (They even brought in Ultravox’s Midge Ure to talk about the band’s legendary performance at Live Aid.) Everyone has good stories to tell, and there are no attempts at revisionist history. If an album didn’t work – say, 1982’s Hot Space – they own up to it, and May is the first to admit that some bad business decisions early on led rendered them financially destitute for years, and it was out of desperation from that that they made A Night at the Opera. Best of all, each album is given an equal amount of coverage, with the exception of the soundtrack to “Flash Gordon,” of which the title track is played but never discussed.

The one unfortunate aspect of “Days of Our Lives” is that bassist John Deacon did not come back to do an interview, so the producers were forced to rely on archive interview footage for half the band. Yes, he’s retired from performing, but this seems like as good an occasion as any to put the Queen hat back on for a day and talk shop. It’s a small quibble, though, because the documentary hits all of the highlights of a truly remarkable career…with one small exception: there is no mention of the “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene from “Wayne’s World.” We would have loved to see them talk about that. (Eagle Vision 2012)

Click to buy Queen: Days of Our Lives from Amazon

  

Sucker Punch: Bringing the soundtrack back

We were disheartened to learn that Warner Bros. would not be screening “Sucker Punch,” Zack Snyder’s “Alice in Wonderland with machine guns” fantasy adventure flick, in our market. Warners is usually very good about showing us their wares, and the last two times they passed us by, it was because they had something to hide (“Cop Out,” “The Rite”). Which of course has us concerned that “Sucker Punch” is going to be a dud, even though it has the best title since “Hot Tub Time Machine” (or “Hobo with a Shotgun”) and the trailers make it look, at the very least, like a total blast.

sucker punch

Further adding to our disappointment is the recent acquisition of the movie’s (spectacular) soundtrack, which sports cover versions of modern rock classics (as well as two psychedelic standards) remodeled as widescreen epics. Actually, calling these tracks cover versions is patently unfair, given the work that went into their arrangents. These are mini-operas, where even the most straightforward of songs will bend, and swoop, or change speeds, until they ultimately explode. Check the positively chilling version of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” that opens the album, or the heartbreaking, string-kissed version of the Smiths’ “Asleep.” The two ’60s nuggets lend themselves the best to the style, though, and they chose two doozies in “White Rabbit” (yes, it’s overdone, but it works wonderfully here) and the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows,” which is stretched out to a full seven-and-a-half-minute freakout. If there is a misstep, it’s the Queen mash-up. Yes, we get it, hip-hoppers love Queen beats, but the pitch shift they applied to “I Want It All” just sounds wrong.

Simply put, “Sucker Punch” is the ballsiest, most ambitious soundtrack since “Moulin Rouge.” It’s nice to see someone think of pop songs in a broader, grander sense than “Let’s come up with the most hipster-y compilation ever assembled.” We can’t wait to see how these songs work as the backdrop to Snyder’s visuals.

Click to buy Sucker Punch soundtrack from Amazon

  

David Bowie: A Reality Tour


RIYL: Mott the Hoople, Queen, Iggy Pop

David Bowie’s 2003-04 “A Reality” tour wasn’t billed as his last, but until he decides to jump back onto the stage for another go-round, that’s exactly what it is. And while the double CD A Reality Tour serves as a five-years-late memento of that occasion (and companion piece to the 2004 DVD of the same name), it still comes off as fresh and exhilarating as the concerts themselves felt five years ago. A big reason for this is Bowie’s achieving the sweet feat of placing copious material from his last two studio albums – 2002’s Heathen and 2003’s Reality – among his ’70s, ’80s and ’90s classics in the best possible light. That is, “Afraid” and “New Killer Star” sound quite at home among older gems like “Breaking Glass” and “Ashes to Ashes.” And while such a large amount of new material (ten songs out of 33) inevitably leaves no room for big hits like “Young Americans” or “Space Oddity” (I also clearly remember Bowie playing “Blue Jean,” also left off this set, at the show I attended in 2004), the strength of all the material here – which also includes his takes on tunes he gave to Mott the Hoople (“All The Young Dudes”) and Iggy Pop (“Sister Midnight”) – is enough so that the stray hits aren’t really missed at all.

One could call this a “career overview,” as the album’s accompanying press release would have us believe, but in practice, A Reality Tour feels more like a continuation of Bowie’s career arc, one that he has left open-ended despite its skewing towards the sound he created on his last two albums and his late ’70s collaborations with Brian Eno. Even if he decides not to return to the world stage, however, he has surely left his legacy in fine shape. (ISO/Columbia/Legacy 2010)

David Bowie MySpace page

  

Mika: The Boy Who Knew Too Much


RIYL: Queen, George Michael, Harry Nilsson

As anyone who’s ever tried to tell a story to a room full of people can tell you, it’s exceedingly difficult to entertain even one person, let alone several million – which is part of why it’s always so disappointing to see successful entertainers try and get serious on us. From Bill Murray in “The Razor’s Edge” to George Michael with Listen Without Prejudice, Volume One, artists are forever trying to show us that they can do more than make us laugh and/or dance – usually with disappointing results. Let’s give Mika credit, then, for not forgetting what moved six million copies of his 2007 debut, Life in Cartoon Motion – namely, the same gleefully layered Technicolor pop that forms the basis of its follow-up, The Boy Who Knew Too Much.

Mika makes no bones about sticking close to his roots, so to speak; as soon as you lay eyes on Boy’s artwork, which looks – at a glance, anyway – awfully similar to Cartoon Motion’s, you’ll know this isn’t going to be a major departure. In fact, it’s really just more of everything: more bright pop hooks, more production, and more wonderfully over-the-top arrangements. It takes less than a full minute before Mika’s leading what sounds like a cast of hundreds in a sing-along chant of “We are not what you think we are! We are golden!” and it’s off to the races from there, in one endless falsetto loop-de-loop of swirling harmonies, pounding pianos, and instantly memorable melodies.


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