1. Ryan Adams – 1989
Is this controversial? It certainly caused a buzz and a stir and for something put together in a few weeks has certainly had a cultural impact. At one extreme, a lot of people were recommending it on the Twitter. At the other, there were chin-stroking New Statesman columns about mainsplaining. It has been featured on The Daily Show and played on Radio 2. Is Ryan Adams mansplaining Taylor Swift? Am I about to do it too?
I feel in an awkward position because I don’t want to be getting into arguments about sexism, but I don’t think that Ryan Adams is guilty of mansplaining Taylor Swift; neither do I think that many people have come to a realisation about the talents of Ms Swift just because.
In my own review of Taylor’s 1989, I wrote that I admired this new version of Taylor Swift and said that a number of the songs were ‘dangerously earwormy’. I linked her decision to abandon any pretence of a country sound to the appalling treatment meted out to women on Country radio, and suggested that the 100% pop move was akin to Miranda Lambert’s decision to pepper her own album with swears.
I am and have been a fan of the Swift oeuvre, and didn’t need Ryan Adams to reveal her brilliance to me. And it really annoys me that I have to pre-amble my review of this album with these credentials just because of some sneering knee jerkiness happening out there on the interwebs.
All that said, it was always inevitable that the original 1989 wouldn’t gain a permanent place on my phone’s playlist simply because of the pop production values which are not and have never been My Thing. Love the woman, love the work, but my ears weren’t built for 80s synth sounds.
The service Ryan Adams has done is not to ‘reveal’ the brilliance of Ms Swift’s songwriting but to allow it to exist more comfortably alongside the country/americana/70s rock sound vibrations in my life.
I’ve never been a particular Ryan Adams fan. So it wasn’t as if this was really calling to me. I certainly wouldn’t look to him as an arbiter of anything. Have a very few Whiskeytown tracks but not as many of them as I have Taylor Swift albums. He’s far too prolific to be easy to get into, and his philosophy of banging out recordings (while it’s probably the way I’d be as a professional musician) means that his work sounds less refined, less produced than most of the stuff I listen to. He admitted in his Daily Show interview that his version of 1989 took him about 3 weeks to put together – a long time for him, but not for most other people. It has a lively and spontaneous feel, but it also doesn’t feel particularly arranged. Whether this will last longer on my playlist than the original, I don’t know, but it is great fun, and it’s great to be hearing these songs played in looser arrangements with the vibe of a whole different genre. What’s great about it is, even with the loose arrangements and low-key production, these songs shine through.
A few years ago, Kris Delmhorst recorded an album of songs originally recorded by the US ‘New Wave’ rock band The Cars. It was very good. This is a similar kind of thing, the kind of tribute album you’d expect a Dylan or a Browne to get: and Taylor Swift is up there in that exalted songwriting company.
2. The Girl in the Spider’s Web – by David Lagercrantz
Let’s begin with my objection to the titles this series of books gets in English. From Men Who Hate Women in Swedish to Millennium Series in other territories, there are a number of ways to refer to the Stieg Larsson’s work. But in English, the woman becomes the girl and the girl has a tattoo. It’s all a bit nudge nudge wink wink. It’s all a bit fucking annoying.
I’ve only read the originals once, thought them good, but I haven’t paid much attention to the controversies surrounding this sequel. So Larsson may have planned ten books in total but didn’t get very far. Imagine if George RR Martin were to die unexpectedly. Would you want A Song of Ice and Fire to be completed by someone else? Probably.
I make the comparison deliberately because of the sheer number of pages in Larsson’s books, which compares to the huge Game of Thrones books. Whereas I found the latter heavy going (flat prose, flat characters), I enjoyed reading Millennium, found them properly gripping proper page turners.
Spider’s Web, or Men Who Hate Women volume IV doesn’t become properly gripping until about 250 pages in. It’s not as long as the Larsson books, so you’re well over halfway through by that point.
It has the grittiness of a thriller. The style is easy to read, the story flows along. There are a lot of different characters and points of view. I’m not sure the author knows what to do with Lisbeth Salander, though he has certainly picked up on details in the earlier books that left readers puzzled: why did Larsson make mention of this person when they don’t really feature? Well, here they are, featuring.
It doesn’t feel like the same series. There isn’t the attention to detail or the sense of immersion in a world. The plot burns too quickly, maybe.
Cynical marketing exercise? Possibly. But my expectations weren’t very high, so it’s all right.
3. Hand of God – Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime has some good stuff (Bosch) and some forthcoming intriguing stuff (The Man in the High Castle) and some forthcoming already-a-hit stuff (Mr Robot). In the meantime, there’s this: a 10-part Amazon original about a corrupt judge having hallucinations/visions and seeking revenge for his son’s. er, comatose state…
It managed to get a positive response for its pilot, or they wouldn’t have made any more, would they? But the critics have slammed it, by all accounts. My feeling is, it’s all right, but it does have problems.
Problem number one is the religious element: the show wants to have it both ways: the judge is deluded and cracking up; at the same time, his ‘visions’ seem to contain enough truth to make you believe they are some form of supernatural intervention. Are we to believe in the agency of the son-in-a-coma’s spirit? Or are we to believe that the judge unconsciously knows stuff that his own delusions are feeding him? Either way, I’m uncomfortable with the religionism in this, and there’s an underlying nastiness to it which feels like someone’s world view.
Problem number two is that the show focuses on the suffering of the son who was forced to watch as his wife was raped. I’ll repeat that: his wife (notice the use of the possessive case) was raped. Her suffering is unimportant. It’s not her who attempts suicide. It’s all about the son, lying in a coma in hospital. And the lack of compassion for her, the treatment of her, is a problem. Why not make the show about the judge seeking revenge for her rape? Why doesn’t he care about her? Why do we have to have a rapey plot in the first place? Why can’t the son be committing suicide following a simple burglary/home invasion?
Problem number three is that there are too many sub-plots. Sure, they kinda tie together in the end, or some of them do, but there are enough character arcs to cover a 22-episode full season, and this is not that. It needed paring down.
Problem number 4 was the general lack of charisma in the cast. Ron Perlman is a born supporting player and couldn’t pull off the Dennis Franz trick. Dana Delaney has been in too many things. Julian Morris doesn’t have enough charisma to play the charismatic preacher. Probably the best of the bunch were Elizabeth McLaughlin and Emayatzy Corinealdi – though neither had enough to do. They tried to give the latter more, but that ended up being one of the sub-plots that didn’t really go anywhere.
So a mixed bag. On the one hand, loads of problems. On the other, I did watch to the end, and the major plot twist at the end did kinda work.