SONIC YOUTH "DIRTY (DELUXE EDITION)"
Stupid, it's not called "Dirty" because of its sound.
This was the Youth's sexiest, naughtiest, angriest, grittiest record --
it's dirty thematically. Butch Vig came on board to give it the "Nevermind"
breakthrough feel, but all it did was open up Thurston Moore's politics,
provoke Kim Gordon's best songs, and ensure that Lee Ranaldo's beautiful
guitar-scorching ballad would shine through. For an 11-year-old album,
its timing couldn't be more perfect. "Youth Against Fascism"
is a better piece of anti-war indictment than anything we got this time
around. ("And, yeah, the president sucks/He's a war-pig fuck"
was about the last Bush, but, really, it's still applicable.) This band
was too arty and cool to make a perfect album -- that sort of ambition
is for uptight squares. So, yes, this two-disc retrospective comes complete
with lots of B-sides, outtakes, crap. But just like everybody from R.E.M.
to Pavement, opening up didn't mean selling out. They were obscure and
learning before "Dirty," experimental and obscure afterward.
This finds them at their peak. A-
YO LA TENGO "SUMMER SUN"
"And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out" was such a great
album of devoted married love that I was convinced I should consider popping
the question myself. This new one doesn't have such an effect because
it's too much like the last one -- still gorgeous, still intimate, still
personal as hell, a little redundant. But that doesn't mean that these
indie lifers doesn't know what they're doing. They've given up rocking
out, but they're learning to groove and get busy in a middle-aged kinda
way. A great argument for loving the one you're with and never leaving
your apartment. A-
ICE CUBE "AMERIKKKA'S MOST WANTED"
If I was 20, black, rich, famous, with a paranoid streak down my back
and across the street, and had something to prove, yeah, my hip-hop album
might have sounded a lot like this. But that wouldn't make it brilliant.
Reissued with "Kill at Will" by its side, it's a piece of history
like "Straight Outta Compton" is -- dark, foreboding, glaring,
bullying anyone in its vicinity. And also like "Compton," time
hasn't been altogether kind to it. Get past the then-start-of-the-art
sonics, and Cube's tough-guy act has very little depth. He's a mean woman-hater,
but why? Society, of course, meaning us white folks. This came out the
same year as "Fear of a Black Planet," which is looking more
and more brilliant with each passing era. Meanwhile, Cube just proves
that having the Bomb Squad watch your back doesn't automatically guarantee
visionary anything. B
THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST, DIRECTED BY AKI KAURISMAKI
Deadpan is fine. Subtle is fine. Even quirky is OK. Put 'em all together,
though, and you've got a slight little movie people might confuse with
genius. When we've been blessed with films like Y Tu Mama Tambien,
City of God, Talk to Her, and Yi Yi that are bold, challenging,
and involving, why does the foreign-language branch need to waste our
time with mediocrity like this? B
A MIGHTY WIND, DIRECTED BY CHRISTOPHER GUEST
Familiarity sets in -- maybe even a little self-satisfaction. The set
pieces aren't as great, the characters not as original. What we get are
a series of chuckles. Bob Balaban is quite fine, though. And Mitch &
Mickey's "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" is right up there
with Keith Carradine's "Easy" from Nashville -- great
film music that both distills the character of its singer and perfectly
embodies the tone of its genre. And let's leave it at that. B
NICK HORNBY, SONGBOOK
As a music critic, Hornby has that rare ability to almost always be completely
wrong while still being engaging, provocative, insightful. This collection-of-essays
disguised as pop musings is more of the same. His unwillingness to separate
autobiography from analysis is going to irk people who never think about
their record collections this deeply, but he gets to the heart of what
individual songs do to us. And like any music nut, his tastes keep teasing
us, daring us to figure out the man behind all those opinions. Although
I usually have nothing to do with loudmouths who can't access Dylan, a
human being who can actually make me think about the J. Geils Band in
2003 deserves some slack for his sometimes indulgent (and just plain wrong)
THE SIMPSONS, SUNDAYS ON FOX
Matt Groening's greatest achievement has been pronounced dead as many
times as rock 'n' roll has. And even though the show still displays a
little kick now and then, its agreeable complacency is pretty discouraging.
Where episodes used to have bite, a clear agenda, and laughs, now we have
shtick. And endless congratulatory self-reflexive asides to earlier, better
seasons. And needless cameos. Do I still watch every week? Of course,
it's a beacon for my generation. But even the soft spot in my heart knows
I'm overrating its mild charms these days. B-