Original Soundtrack for I'M NOT THERE 2xCD reviewed by Dave Rick
Dec 21, 2007, 18:57
VARIOUS ARTISTS I'm Not There original soundtrack 2xCD
Some of director Todd Haynes works like Poison and Safe are pretty darn good. And any friend of Sirk and Fassbinder is at least somebody I'll talk to at a party, if not share a meal with later, because “we really got to get together.” But, damn. Velvet Goldmine was just plain bad on so many levels. I'd love to go on about it here, but that's not what I'm being enlisted to attack. Suffice to say, that train-wreck does not lead me to feel confident about anything else Haynes' has to say about music, music culture or even pop culture (let's not get into the Carpenters thing—it was no Eraserhead). So, the question is then, in my ears, for your ears is there enough on this packed to the hilt double CD package truly engaging enough to confirm there indeed is a there there? Should any of the assumed us want to buy these interpretations of this generally excepted cultural experience, which created a certain outlook from which we've peered out behind our Bose coloured glass half empty for the past forty-four fucking years in whatever form? Artists include those favored by the younger Establishment: S. Youth, the YoLas, John Doe; younger performers like Malkmus, Cat Power and Calexico; and the not quite youngest like Antony, Karen O, and Sufjan. Willie Nelson's on here and nobody don't like Willie (shit, Richie Haven is too). But should we assume Sony is selling this ancient technology known as the CD to the crowd that knows these artists? I don't know which tunes actually make the film; it certainly can't be all thirty-four. I sense an attempt to teach old consumers new tricks.
I'm surprised I haven't seen I'm Not There yet. In fact, it's playing by the local mega-multi that's managed to squeeze a shameful double-digit dose of screens into what was a beautiful mid-20th Century Brooklyn building. I assume what I think of as a message mostly marginal to â€˜Merika fulfills the retirement dreams and wishes of the liberal 'n' lefty population that makes up the surrounding long gentrified, increasingly and shamelessly upscale to deluxe neighborhood. For the most part, my snot nosed assumption is that this crowd skews aesthetically and aggressively middlebrow when it comes to their Pop culture—that is, movies and music. This is opposed to their Bachelors'-preceding-Masters' requirement that they learn to appreciate painters, authors and even composers still attached to a previous canon firmly entrenched by the time that Brooklyn theater was built. Are these intrepid oldsters (many my age) ready to listen to, if not actually hear, music that's not a critically acclaimed Dylan or Madonna release and consider it serious, adult and worthy of their attention? They still listen to The White Album no doubt. Maybe they've even indulged in what's now deemed a less than guilty pleasure and purchased Zeppelin's Mothership compilation from iTunes. Some of them already know the NPR certified Wilco. Wonders don't always cease.
The infamous alterna-A&R initiator Jim Dunbar compiled this collection as a state of the art timely and tasteful tome totaling today's top non-hit makers. Mark Lanegan, Los Lobos, Jack Elliot and The Black Keys, neither disappoint nor surprise. Roger McGuinn, Jim James and others both enliven and benefit from Calexico's stately vibe and horns. YLT, joined by Terry Adams and John Sebastian (!) among others, does a great job and no doubt has a fucking hoot, mimicking Dylan and The Band on his obscure Beatles joke, “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” I also particularly enjoy hearing Malkmus' singular strained song-speak on a couple cuts. He's interpretive and expressive merely in his person and adds much needed perspective. Funny how I have the opposite response at this point to Jeff Tweedy's voice though he's equally distinctive. I guess I'm tired of the notion that Rock people can only do covers slavishly or as clever asides. Certainly, the lassitude has existed allowing musical commentary on other artists compositions. But unlike Jazz interpretation these performances aren't allowed the freedom to merely exist as extrapolation and extension. Rock musicians covering each other, while not always to blame, seem to have some bolted-on concept or irony that diminishes and detracts from the experience. But, painfully few artists are taking even these minor chances here. So much of this CD collection is easy on the ears and temperament. Much of it, whether with backing by the Million Dollar Bashers (Lee Ranaldo's merry making bunch including Nels Cline and Tom Verlaine) or not, comes across as warmed over E-Street Band. I guess a lot of folks think paying tribute to Dylan means throwing a B3 at it. Great. I'm shocked to be writing that the one and only performance that surely surpassed my expectation was that by Karen O. She really doesn't do more than you'd expect—she uses her usual studio effects—and in fact tones down the goofy tics. But, ironically with the fairly bland backing of the Bashers her freakdom comes out to play eschewing the scene chewing freak show. She doesn't make the mistake Sonic Youth does in attempting to reach beyond their grasp to normalcy. She maintains who she is and what she does, and sings in her literal and figurative voice that conveys oddness and adventure just as Dylan usually does. It made me interested in hearing an actual Yeah Yeah Yeahs' take on something of his. Like the Black Keys, who do a good job merely playing, I'd expect the YYYs to simply look at a tune through their own telescope. Verlaine's vocal turn with the Bashers almost yields the same effect, but I find him too affected. Unlike Mz O, I expect him to know better. Patience is tested by the time his feature shows up on the second CD; things smell stale but half-baked. Considering the baker that wrote the recipe, it's not how I want my cookie to crumble. Ultimately, this overstocked stocking suffer is a jumbo biscotti tantamount to a Starbucks set for the smarter crowd. [Columbia/Sony Music Soundtrax]
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