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January 21, 2004 - Image 8

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2004-01-21

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January 2,20
arts.michigandaily. com




Canonizing the big finish

In the film "High Fidelity," which
remains pop culture's closest brush
with music elitism (read: "record
nerds"), obnoxious clerk Barry (Jack
Black) asks mopey store owner Rob
Gordon (John Cusack) for his top five
all time "side one's, track one's." An
important question, to be sure, but it
highlights a far more basic concept:
The first track on the album has as
much to do with the album's success
as any other moment. It can be grip-
ping and unavoidable, or merely the
first brick laid on the path of boredom
and frivolity.
So sub-question: What about the
closer? While lead tracks tend to be the
most memorable - as well as the most
frequently played song - the true suc-
cess of an album often lies in the ability
of its last-gasp effort to leave an emo-
tional imprint.
The importance of an album closer is
inexorably linked to belief in the
"Album as Journey, a concept that did-
n't develop until the 1960s. It is an idea
that grew strongly in the world of rock
music, and as such, it excludes some of
the finest music ever made: blues,
Motown and early country music were
tied to the notion that singles were the
bread and butter of music and that
albums were merely a byproduct, a
necessity of exposure and economics.
Since then, however, many of the
finest albums released in the sphere of
popular music have ascribed to the
notion that an album should transport a
listener, and that its tracks should flow
smoothly into one another. The Beat-
les' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club
Band is exemplary of this approach: a
cycle of singular songs, bound by
themes and textures.
The ideal album closer is more than
just a strong song sequenced at the end
of a record. It should be, if not the emo-
tional and sonic core of an album, then
at least a resonating representation of
the album's themes. The Beatles'
Revolver, widely considered one of the
finest pop albums ever produced, ends
with "Tomorrow Never Knows," a fine
song even by that band's lofty standards,
but not the resounding coda that album
Further examination of classic
album enders reveal two distinct
trends. The first is that of community
music best exemplified by the Talking
Heads' "Take Me to the River" from

Stop Making Sense or the Rolling
Stones' "You Can't Always Get What
You Want," from Let It Bleed. This
trend finds the artist ending on a usual-
ly uplifting note, incorporating a cho-
rus of voices, united in spirit and
message. The second, more art-dam-
aged notion is the artist-as-troubadour
and usually features the singer, accom-
panied by sparse instrumentation, clos-
ing the album on a simple, solitary
note. The Replacements' "Answering
Machine" from Let It Be and Dylan's
"Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands"
from Blonde on Blonde come immedi-
ately to mind, but the examples are too
many to name.
Of course, falling into one of these
categories is by no means essential to
producing a standout finish. Elvis
Costello struck gold with "Watching the
Detectives," which was thematically and
aurally removed from the remainder of
My Aim Is True, yet still managed to
sum his vision. It can be argued that a
fantastic closer isn't a necessary compo-
nent of a good album. The Pixies, indie
rock's flagship band, released four unbe-
lievable albums without producing a
pure closer. Radiohead's OK Computer,
surely one of the 1990's best albums,
ends with one of the band's weakest
songs ("The Tourist"). Neil Young's
timeless After the Gold Rush and the
Beatles' White Album both close on
similarly disappointing notes.
The necessity and impact of album
finales is easily put up for debate:
Great music and great records have
undoubtedly been produced without
such summations of intent. There is
no denying the emotional impression
that such a track can leave, if executed
The very best? "High Fidelity" eti-
quette dictates that the only way to end
such a circular debate is to roll out the
lists and argue. One hack's favorites:
Tom Waits' "Anywhere I Lay My
Head," from Rain Dogs, The Rolling
Stones' "Moonlight Mile," from Sticky
Fingers, Radiohead's "Motion Picture
Soundtrack," from Kid A, Blur's "No
Distance Left to Run," from 13 and
John Lee Hooker's "The Waterfront"
from The Real Folk Blues.
Andrew desperately tried to fit
Archers of Loaf into this column, but he
was heinously censored. Send sympathy
to agaerig@umich.edu

Courtesy of
It puts the
lotion on the
skin, or else
it gets the
hose again.


By Raquel Laneri
Daily Arts Writer

There's nothing more annoying than the
drooling adoration critics shower on actresses
who alter their physical appearances for films.
Nicole Kidman was lauded
for wearing a prosthetic
nose in "The Hours," Halle Monster
Berry was praised for At the State Theater
appearing sans makeup in Newmarket
"Monster's Ball" and -
most infuriatingly - Gwyneth Paltrow was
commended by women's magazines for donning
a fat suit in "Shallow Hal."
Now Charlize Theron ("The Italian Job"),
usually cast as arm-candy for the leading man,
is garnering similar buzz for her portrayal of
real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Patty
Jenkins' "Monster" - a portrayal that involves
fake yellowed teeth, splotchy skin, dry stringy
hair and an extra 25 pounds to her frame.
What separates Theron from the rest of these
actresses, however, is that while audience mem-
bers are aware they are watching Kidman, Barry
or Paltrow in their roles, they cannot even find a
trace of Theron in Wuornos' character. Theron
completely immerses herself in the role, churn-
ing out one of the best performances seen in
recent years and saving "Monster in the process.

Without a strong female lead, "Monster"
would have fallen flat on its face, lacking a
tight, well-written script with clear motivations
for its characters. The voice-over narration
shamelessly pleads for sympathy for the main
character, and on paper the interactions
between Wuornos and her lesbian lover, Selby
(Christina Ricci, "Sleepy Hollow"), seem
rather cheesy and superficial, consisting of
either adoring compliments (you're-so-beauti-
ful's) or naive, foolish promises (I'll-buy-you-
Theron, fortunately, more than compensates
for these flaws in the script. The way she confi-
dently swaggers in order to mask her vulnera-
bility and nervousness shown through her shaky
fingers and spastic head twitch makes her unde-
niably human and automatically garners sympa-
thy. The way she holds a wounded yet
passionate look in her eyes communicates all
the motivation the audience needs to make her
character believable. The way she seems like
she's improvising rather than reading a script
gives a freshness and sincerity to the otherwise
mediocre dialogue. Theron even manages a
first-kiss scene accompanied by Journey's
"Don't Stop Believin"' to appear touching
rather than sappy - quite an astonishing feat.
"Monster" does not go deeply into Wuornos'
past that lead to prostitution, though sexual
abuse and abandonment are mentioned. The
film chooses instead to focus on the relation-

ship between Wuornos and Selby and the mur-
derous streak sparked when she is raped by one
of her customers - a streak that leaves seven
men dead.
The relationship between the two women is a
bit muddled, however. Theron makes it clear
that when Wuornos meets Selby, she is so
damaged and disillusioned by the treatment
she has received from men that she clings onto
Selby out of desperation and hope for some-
thing better.
Ricci, however, never paints a clear picture
of Selby. She can't decide whether she wants
Selby to be extremely naive or incredibly self-
ish. She claims to love Wuornos, yet she gets
angry when Wuornos announces she wants to
quit "hookin'." She demands that Wuornos
murder to obtain a car, even after reacting in
horror to Wuornos' confession. Selby's deci-
sion to testify against Wuornos also remains
unexplored, leaving Selby more as an outline
or sketch rather than a three-dimensional char-
acter. Strangely, the audience understands the
prostitute/serial killer more than the confused
drifter who gets swept into a relationship with
"Monster" may have its flaws, and its bleak
portrayal of humanity can turn off many, but the
gritty honesty and uncompromising passion that
Theron brings to the movie transform it into a
captivating drama and forces us to see Wuornos
as more than a monster.


Classic sitcoms return on DVD

Nathanson's melancholy
subdues fans at the Ark


By Adam Rottenberg
Daily Arts Writer

(George Wendt) and Cliff (John
Ratzenberger) manage to steal nearly
every scene

Few television sitcoms captivated
audiences and critics quite like
"Cheers" did in its 10 year run. Fol-
lowing in its footsteps was the equal-
ly smart and witty spin-off "Frasier,"
starring Kelsey Grammer in the titu-
lar role. Now both TV classics return
to DVD with complete second season
"Cheers" stole audiences' hearts
with the on-again, off-again romance
between Sam (Ted Danson) and
Diane (Shelly Long). By focusing
not only on the relationship of the
two main stars, but also on the inter-
actions between the barflies and
staff, the show created a cohesive
comedy family. Season two shows
the early years of a classic and a cast
that found its rhythm early. Norm

where they are
featured, and the
plots give these
supporting play-
ers some chances

Season Two

to take center
stage in these Cheers:
second season Season Two
shows. "Cheers"
still manages to Paramount
elicit laughs
nearly 20 years after these episodes
initially aired.
While "Cheers" spent time on the
entanglements of a couple, "Frasier"
centered on a lovelorn psychiatrist
and his family. The second year
brought an already strong ensemble
to the forefront as opposed to strictly
focusing on Frasier's own romantic
mishaps. Niles' (David Hyde Pierce)
secret crush on Daphne (Jane Leeves)

began to manifest, but it didn't domi-
nate the plot as in later years. In its
final season on the air "Frasier" has
lost a step, however, the second sea-
son showed the series at its finest and
In spite of the great sitcom hilarity,
these sets disappoint slightly in the
picture and sound. "Cheers," as
expected, does not have the best pic-
ture quality and its sound is from a
central speaker, like most television
shows. "Frasier" experiences similar
deficiencies, but is of a higher quali-
ty because of its more recent produc-
tion date. The extras are minimal, as
featurettes on the "Cheers" set and
the inclusion of a commentary track
for "Frasier" are the only added
With constant play in syndication,
these boxes feature episodes that are
available for free almost everyday.
Even with that knowledge, both
"Cheers" and "Frasier" are worth-

By Brandon Harig
Daily Arts Writer

Courtesy ofParamount

I'm listening.

while additions to a DVD library,
enabling fans to watch the shows at
their own leisure. For sitcom perfec-
tion, look no further than "Cheers"
and "Frasier."
Cheers: ***
Frasier: *** i

I tt' a eer FRr

Having already released five
independent albums before this
year's Beneath These Fireworks,
Matt Nathanson has developed
from a little-known secret into "the
guy you knew before he got popu-
lar." Touring extensively over the
years, a process he refers to as
"taking the
stairs," he stands Matt
to be the next big Nathanson
thing in the Jan.19
singer/songwriter Mond At the Ark
genre. While A__h__rk_
Nathanson is not
necessarily reinventing the wheel
with his major-label debut, he
proves reinvention is not necessary.
The album stands as an intimate
and absorbing record with a foun-
dation in acoustic chords.
Diverting from his multi-show
tour with Gavin DeGraw,
Nathanson played Monday at the
Ark before a sold-out Ann Arbor
crowd. With a setlist dancing
throughout his extensive music cat-
alog, album tracks like "I Saw"
and "Sad Songs" displayed his abil-
ity to let his music breathe, and not
simply rush to a catchy pop hook.
The way Nathanson plays and sings
songs like "Answering Machine"
come across like a lover's letter,
yielding a sense of private confes-
sion and apology. Accompanied by
cellist Matt Fish, Nathanson was

before the hushed audience,
Nathanson showed himself to be a
more than capable musician, strum-
ming the melancholy "Little Victo-
ries" and accenting the chords with
a somber voice that fit the atmos-
phere perfectly.
Nathanson has been on the road
and releasing songs for more than a
decade, progressively "getting a lit-
tle better as a songwriter and
(learning) how to make records
more the way that I think I want
records to be made." Road experi-
ence has also given him the capa-
bility to command an audience with
his performance, knowing when to
tell a story and when to lower his
voice to a hushed whisper, most
notably on an amazing cover of Jeff
Buckley's "Last Goodbye."
Ranging from the hopeful single
"Suspended," a song about the
somebody that makes you forget
how much you hate yourself, to his
latest album's most striking track,
"Angel," the show oscillated back
and forth with intensity, leaving the
listener exhausted by the end of the
Covering songs by Queen, Prince
and Counting Crows, Nathanson
showed himself capable of playing
an amazing set of personal songs
that fit alongside some of the best
in modern music. The show did
have its fervent points, as songs
like the James' cover "Laid"
allowed him to divest from his
more mellow-sounding catalog. By
the show's end, however;,the night
stood as a compelling look at

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