Movies & music

I watched The Joker last night. First up, very good movie. Secondly, Joaquin Phoenix inhabits the role to an unsettling degree. I can’t imagine a better – more committed – performance this year. Thirdly, brilliantly directed and made. It’s a very densely textured movie with great attention to detail. The colour palette is great. Fourthly, it may technically be another adaptation based on a comic book character, but this isn’t escapist nonsense. It’s full-on dark and twisted, which reflects contemporary issues regarding mental illness, alienation, and the fractures in society. Finally, I found this very disturbing (and tragic).

In conclusion, viewing this was an experience – but not one I want to repeat in a hurry.

Happier it is to report on the Harry Styles album, which is – and I never thought I’d say this – much better than I expected. To be fair, this is an excellent album on any measure, it’s just that never in my wildest dreams did I expect an album like this to come out of the One Direction dissolution. This is a really mature album with great licks throughout and attitude to boot. It has a retro feel to it, like music used to be, given a contemporary spin. I don’t know if there’s a dud track on it – I’ve been playing it on Spotify. The best of it is utterly infectious.

I tend to be scathing of modern music, much of which appears soulless to me. When I was growing up, a lot of us wanted to play in a rock band when we got older. The top 40 was the soundtrack of our lives, and we lived and breathed it. We’d sing it in the shower and talk about it at school and, when someone got a new LP we fancied, we’d get them to make a tape of it for us. The TV was full of music programs that would actually comment on the music of the day, rather than mindlessly playing videos of them one after another, as it is now. What I’m saying is that music was very grassroots and passionate – a lot of us were music geeks – and there were themes and issues often explored in the music of the day, unlike now.

On this occasion, I’m not complaining. I feel sorry for the kids today who don’t get to experience that sense of yearning devotion, and the journey that entails. I don’t listen to a lot of contemporary music because little of it has that passion that I can discern – the sense of a musical calling. A lot of the music appears written by formula, or else by a computer with the settings carefully calibrated to hit the spot.

There are exceptions. A lot of them are either old school bands who have been around forever or else have gestated in the old fashioned way – a bunch of schoolmates, or friends, passionate about music and writing it in their back rooms.

And then something like this Harry Styles album comes out and a lot of it is familiar in type, even if it has a modern veneer. There’s a vibrancy to the music lacking in most of the popular songs these days. There’s a creativity that comes from being deeply invested in the process. That takes the music in different directions sometimes and adds a depth to it. It feels human, and as if it’s been lived.

I like Harry Styles before this, if not musically. He’s got some major hype, but he seemed like a good kid, intelligent and balanced. Now I like his music too, and right now he’s the bee’s knees. Go, Harry!

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