True Blood: A Three-Quarters Assessment
Of a typical 12 episode season for True Blood (and most summer shows for that matter), here we stand 9 deep with the last 3 remaining. I chose to write this piece and reflection about the current season of the show at this time because this is usually when the plot starts to lose its understanding of boundaries and go straight up bananas. For the most part, the homestretch of a True Blood season is really enjoyable in this way. All hell breaks loose, and just before we see the point of no return, the writing team corrals everything in time to set up details and hints about the next season. Based on where this season has been, is, and is going, I’m not sure I’m ready or that much anticipating what the resolution will look like. There have been instances along the way where I felt like I had the old show back, but for all the times its peered towards the edge over the course of almost 5 full seasons, my gut tells me my interest may be slowly slipping for good now.
The start of any season of True Blood up to this point has me intrigued and to a certain extent mad with anticipation. There were signs from season 4 (the were-panther arc, the end of the Marnie story, countless plot holes without explanation) that could have hinted that the show was losing its way, but I repressed those thoughts in favor of happier ones as to not cloud any judgment. And then came the first episode. IMHO, an absolute dud. At no point did I say to myself, “Awesome!” It was more like, “Is this what the whole season is going to be like?” There was the revelation that Tara was alive, a total bummer for me – ironically her arc has been one thing I’ve really enjoyed this season – because she was my least favorite character; sounds harsh, but it’s a TV show, come on. Then the anticipation left from last season’s finale about Russell only to realize he didn’t show up here (or the next few hours either). And of course, the extremely odd part with Steve Newlin and his obsession with Jason. We knew he was going to be a vampire, but their immediate direction with him was very anti-climactic.
To the show’s credit, the next few episodes definitely picked up the pace, only to seemingly plateau again soon after. We had the stagnant arc of Terry and that guy from Felicity going all PTSD, simultaneously accompanied by Bill and Eric’s and their condemnation to the Authority building. Forever. Like I mentioned, there have been bursts of brilliance, harkening back memories of near flawless seasons like 2 and 3. However, a pattern that began to emerge in season 3 (werewolves) continued in season 4 (witches, fairies) and was headed in a direction GOK coming into this season may stain whatever is left. With so many characters involved in so many narratives, it appears as if this was better served when we were dealing with vampires, and them alone. The introduction of other supernatural creatures like clockwork and an attempt to integrate it all seamlessly is grinding the gears to a point that may have even the actors thinking, “what the hell is going on here?”
With all of that being said, perhaps the final 3 episodes will impact me so much I will rescind any bad thing I ever said about the show. And to be honest, the capacity for that actually exists. Furthermore, when I said my interest may be slowly slipping away for good, I did mean slowly. My obsession may never return to its peak but I will continue to watch even as my interest declines. I hope the next three weeks are telling in the best way possible.
Some other lowlights that I wanted to mention:
Christopher Meloni’s part – underwhelming; more the writing (he tried REALLY hard) than anything else. I WANT MORE LAFAYETTE. The relapse of Jason into utter stupidity; he’s funny that way, but he showed last season he can be funny and evolving at the same time. The absence of a naked Jessica. WAY too political; perhaps it’s Alan Ball’s drop the mic moment as fades into the sunset. Bill’s transformation; believed Eric’s last season, having a hard time with Bill now. Eric calling Nora his sister; just because vampire babies are made different doesn’t change what they did as incest. Having a child vampire as the bad guy – no fun for anybody. Weird fairy parties.
There have also certainly been some highlights:
Lafayette’s mom and her one, glorious scene. (She deserves to be isolated)
Alcide just being a total badass and sensitive at the same time. Eric; he grows on me every season, a nod to Skarsgard and his versatility. Andy’s one liners. The return of Bud Dearborne, if only too brief. When Russell finally came back and actually contributed to the plot; be careful with him writers of True Blood! The dynamic between Pam and Tara as maker and progeny; I actually care about Tara’s story now! Don Bartolo – I just love that name.
Concerning all of the lowlights, the highlights, the good and the bad, the weird and the nauseating, I’ll be doing a more in depth season review after the last episode.
If you’ve seen most of the season do you agree? Disagree? Don’t care anymore and just want to see more blood and sex? Me too.
The Dark Knight Rises
After taking some personal time (to digest the tragedy and see the movie again), I have decided it appropriate to muse on The Dark Knight Rises and its artistic merit. I’ve already touched on the horrific events surrounding the premiere, so this is just to talk about the movie itself.
This has truly been an epic trilogy. In many ways it has redefined the way the general public has perceived what a superhero movie should actually look like. After the laughingstock that was the last two Batman films in the 1990’s, DC and Warner Bros. rightfully looked at themselves in the mirror and realized that the Bruce Wayne saga needed some fresh voices. They took a chance on a relatively unknown director back in 2003, and nine years later here we are. While there was The Prestige and even the smash hit Inception sprinkled in between the three Batman movies, right now thinking about Christopher Nolan means thinking about Batman. It means thinking about intricate, and at times over-the-top and unnecessary, plot devices. It means thinking about the new gloom of Batman, and how despite those sometimes unnecessary plot strategies, these films work on so many levels.
For all intents and purposes The Dark Knight Rises was fighting the unwinnable battle. Driving up a steep hill that it could never summit as it tumbled back to the beginning. You see, because when you make something like The Dark Knight, how do you answer it? In that regard preemptively separating the two and not trying to link them in every possible manner is the way to go. Impossible, but the way to go. Would Bane be as good as The Joker? (No). Could we be as enthralled from beginning to end by this as we were by the $1 Billion predecessor? (No). But is this a great film? (Yes).
Taken in an overall scope, the plot of The Dark Knight Rises is more complicated than either Batman Begins or The Dark Knight. However, it seemed tighter (script-wise) than both, perhaps a sign of how much the Nolan brothers continue to perfect their craft when they work together. It’s not to say that there weren’t times we were all looking at the screen and thinking, what? Did Bane just imprison Bruce Wayne somewhere in Asia and get back to Gotham in time for dinner? Did that guy in said prison heal Wayne’s BROKEN back by simply guiding a stray vertebrae into place? In any superhero movie (especially one under the pretense that our superhero doesn’t have any superpowers) that lasts nearly three hours questions as such will arise. But as previously stated, tight, strong, and low on cheese.
However, speaking of cheese, what was with that scene where Marion Cotillard’s Talia al Ghul dies? This is an Oscar winning actress, and for most of the film she was brilliant as always. However, that scene took me back to the cartoonish nature of the last sad incarnation of Batman on screen before Nolan, Batman & Robin. Also, one more quick issue to raise before getting back to the good stuff. When we see that the last scene is Bruce and Selina in an Italian setting imagined by Alfred earlier, I felt really iffy about it. It was when Batman makes the ultimate sacrifice by flying the bomb out over the water and saving Gotham that had me smiling. Not because Batman was supposed to be dead. But, like many others also thought, the trajectory of Nolan’s arc pointed to Batman dying at some point in this movie; and the way it happened was valiant and appropriate. Now some have asked is the last scene reality (there are always questions with Nolan), but we have to assume based on the eye test that Batman used the auto pilot and survived.
In The Dark Knight everyone except for Maggie Gyllenhaal brings it hard. For whatever reason I never believed in her performance and actually thought Katie Holmes did a better Rachel Dawes in Batman Begins. In this movie the female lead, Anne Hathaway, kills it. I didn’t know going in how I would feel about her as Catwoman (which they never say by name), but her sinister and vulnerable sides both came through as sincere to me, and really elevated the movie overall. Christian Bale once again does Batman/Bruce Wayne a good service, especially as to not try and overplay and steal scenes when he could because there is not THAT much Batman here for a three hour long escapade about Batman. Fine performances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and again from Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman have this final chapter right there with The Dark Knight.
Save for one thing: as gallantly as Tom Hardy plays a great villain in Bane, The Dark Knight Rises lacks Heath Ledger, The Joker, and the best performance I’ve ever seen on screen. Everything Bane does is convincing, as he seems to be as menacing as he is calculating. His overwhelming stature shines through and genuinely tells the audience how much of a physical test this is for Batman. I really liked this film, will watch it many times over, but even with a tighter script, fantastic directing as always, and great performances across the board, The Dark Knight will always stand above because of a talent that unfortunately left this world much too soon. Even in absence the legend of Heath Ledger’s turn as The Joker remains.
Book Club: ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’
Some Plot Spoilers!!
For Whom the Bell Tolls is the result of Ernest Hemingway’s time spent in Spain during their civil war in the 1930’s. It is a brutal look at the physical and mental struggles that impact those involved in, and affected by, war. Although it isn’t my favorite Hemingway work, I just recently finished it for real (when it had been a required reading, I spark noted that shit), and wanted to pen some thoughts I had about it.
The novel’s pace initially had me lukewarm. A timespan covered in the first 50 pages of The Sun Also Rises (which is my favorite Hemingway book) eclipses the entire length of Bell. 4 days, 3 nights, 500 pages. While his customary terse prose is still in effect, it doesn’t seem to flow as well as I thought it would. Although, with the entire scope of the book itself, it wasn’t one of the things taken into account primarily.
By far, the most interesting aspect of how the book is written is its narrative structure and use of language. For the better part of the first half, it is almost all in third person. As it continues on however, it exchanges between third person and first person inner-dialogue, mainly that of the main character, Robert Jordan. It is a technique that emphasizes the escalating mental strain endured by the ensemble Hemingway familiarizes us with. Furthermore, the language – including literary keywords like syntax, and diction! – is something that can be frustrating, and also fascinating. Obviously, the novel is told in English, with the idea that it has already been translated from the Spanish the characters are speaking. This results in Hemingway using things like false friends (ex., “molestar” does not mean “molest” it means bother, as in “me molesta” = “it bothers me” where he uses “it molests me”), direct translations (“voy” means “I go” but in reality we would use it in the continuous form, “I’m going,” but again Hemingway keeps “I go”), and grammar techniques used many times in Spanish but almost never in English (“que me digas” is a common way to say “tell me” but would literally be said as “that you tell me” which Hemingway uses). This permeates the entire novel, in no small part influenced by his immersion in key Spanish cities reporting during the war.
One thing that left me in a bit of a conundrum about his use of language was that, as a Spanish speaker, I can understand what he is trying to say in all of the instances where it doesn’t seem like sound English. Also, he many times uses Spanish, which he sometimes translates immediately after, but sometimes doesn’t. Again, I can understand the Spanish, and in that sense it doesn’t affect me one way or another, but towards the end he also uses a little French, which I don’t speak, and I realized how vexing it could possibly be to attempt to translate key things that characters may be saying. Overall, the narrative structure and language hadn’t really enhanced the book in my eyes, because of the above mentioned.
Another thing I was a little on the fence about was the character of Maria. In a way her relationship with Robert seems rushed and disingenuous. However, the relationship itself helps explain the vulnerability of her character and the fragility of so many young people left without families as a result of the war. I believed in the history of Jake and Brett from The Sun Also Rises more; he was left impotent by a war injury, leaving Brett physically unsatisfied whenever she is with him, but emotionally still very in love with him. However, the deeper nature of Maria’s story exposed through her relationship with Robert is chilling, and in the end, necessary.
However, anything talked about involving this book is secondary to the analysis of Robert Jordan. Tasked by a Russian general to blow up a bridge between Madrid and Segovia with the help of a guerilla band fighting for the Republic, Robert ends up getting involved in guerilla politics within the guerilla warfare. At one point, in an incredibly tense scene, the entire band is eating dinner inside of the cave they have taken as shelter, and Robert, thinking to himself, wonders whether he should kill the band leader, and resident drunk, Pablo. The crazy part is that everyone is expecting him to do it, including Pablo, who seems to be resigned to the fact. Why? It all seems to come back to the principle thought of war. Normal conventions of interaction are suspended because there are no rules in war.
Towards the end of the novel, Robert beings to think more and more about death. Not that it hadn’t come up before, but in a way he becomes obsessed by it, as do all the characters we meet. And in this comes a startling revelation: even before the events of the book start, Robert knows that death is the only conclusion. The fact that it is because his horse gets shot after he blows up the bridge and it collapses, breaking his leg and leaving him immobile, is secondary. At times he tricks himself into believing that he’ll survive the ordeal (mostly with Maria), but it is clear that he’s always known. And his death will be worth something because he fought for it. He makes this clear distinction when he brings up his father’s suicide and how it makes him think his father was a coward. An extremely eerie premonition for Hemingway’s own life, especially considering he sees himself in many of his leading characters.
Like I said, it’s not my favorite Hemingway. What it is, is an expose on something he fixated on his entire life, war. His straightforward dialogue and descriptions pull no punches and paint a grim reality. It’s also painful to think that it’s written from the Republic point of view, knowing full well the Fascist side ends up winning the war and ushering in Franco for decades to come. It was also both creepy and rewarding to read it while living here in Spain. He vividly describes areas that are a 5 minute walk from my flat, implanting the idea of turmoil in a place I’ve always seen as inspiring. It was a months-long journey that I certainly do not regret, and solidified my respect for Hemingway for what he is: an ultimate badass.
The ‘Person of Interest’ Dilemma
A little while ago, I had somehow made my way out of my bat cave (inside jokes are the best!) because our internet had decided not to work for the better part of 48 hours. sidenote: the cable had been unplugged and we didn’t have internet because it was the last thing we checked. #firstworldproblems
During this time I was watching Spanish television for one of the seldom times I had all year long, and stumbled upon ANOTHER American procedural entitled Person of Interest. Before I go any further, and I warn you whether or not you should watch this show, remember this: the CBS drama stars Jesus. Food for thought.
The problem in today’s television world and procedurals is their number. Originally, CSI was a pioneer. It built off the success of a show like Law & Order and providing the viewer with a weekly show that, if chosen that way, could be consumed through that hour alone. Now, of course, there are overarching storylines that permeate each procedural, but nothing is required before any one episode like it would be essential in something like Lost. However, if you think about it, what show isn’t a procedural, especially on CBS? Their ratings are through the roof, but they have the CSI franchise, Criminal Minds, and Blue Bloods just to name a few. Oh, and Person of Interest. So where does this one land?
Well, it has a million things that relate to every other cop show that we’ve ever seen. Foremost, barring some multi-arc episode or season finale, the conflict presented at the start of the episode will be resolved by the end. There is a season long arc involving a crime boss, but it is very rarely played into a single-episode plot. And if it is, it isn’t essential except for once, which hardly qualifies as a prerequisite.
In essence none of the above mentioned present the dilemma I want to speak of. The dilemma first presents itself in my “do I actually like this show?…a lot?” Yes, and, no. I do like it. It was created by Jonathan Nolan, brother to the most gifted director in Hollywood. Speaking of those brothers, one speaks American and one speaks British…awkward. It, by necessity, follows every convention of previous procedurals. It has to because it’s a network and it needs ratings. But no, the dilemma here comes from the embracement of the main characters.
The show is based upon the idea that a genius invented a machine that can predict violent crime (see: previous-terrorism) but he is meek and needs a physical vigilante to carry out justice. This is where Jesus comes in. He plays a total badass, a la Jesus Cristo, and each time he comes up against a foe I’m waiting for the hammer. The show establishes early that this is a man, come upon hard times, with a special set of skills (…and then I’m going to kill you). So, unless he comes upon a CIA operative, he’s going to win. And I relish the moment where he pwns them. It’s great.
No, the dilemma here comes from Jesus acting like for some reason, in the world’s busiest city, he is constantly in a library. It seems like the producers said, ‘play this real serious.’ And then, when he played it as is, they said, ‘whoa! way too serious!’ Does he have a vocal chord issue? Did something happen to him where he needs to constantly whisper?
Whatever it is, it won’t stop me from watching the show. Now, does this say more about me as part of the mass viewers these days? Or that I notice refreshing writing when I see it? I’ll take the latter. On a parlay.
After some time of leaving his music to the burner, for the past few weeks I have been able to do nothing but listen to Drake’s Take Care. I could have been quoted at some point during this time as telling one of my roommates, “Drake got me through work today.” And I wasn’t even joking. Since my good man DJ Fergs (twitter: @DJFergieFerg) introduced me to the newest member of ‘Young Money’ back in the summer of ’09, I’ve been on that ‘Jimmy from Degrassi: The Next Generation’ bandwagon. Remember? He got shot and ended up in a wheelchair. Later on that summer “Best I Ever Had” blew up, leaving many to forget that track was actually off a mixtape. But don’t worry, Aubrey Graham made sure to remind us on “Forever.”
And that’s one thing that has translated throughout his short career, again on this album, that I really appreciate. He can be cocky, but he backs it up; and at the end of it, he gets introspective in a way that not so many MC’s can nowadays. What started on Thank Me Later Drake finishes here. You could tell after his debut that he had sold even himself a little bit short, that it may have been rushed after all the hype, and he was ready to put out a complete piece of art last November.
Much of the material on Take Care comes sourced from girls and women in place of bitches and hoes. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m down for my occasional bitches and hoes, but Drake really opens the window to some of his past relationships and the emotional damage they inflicted on him.
Additionally, we know now that if Drake is featured on a new track, he’ll probably slay it. (see: “Say Something”) However, murdering hooks and overshadowing others on their own tracks doesn’t always translate to a full length LP. Here, it does. Not only does he masterfully blend melodies and flow, but his lyrics are relevant. More so on a full album than I’ve heard anytime recently. I know I could never dream of having a flow like Drake, but wondering whether I might not be able to touch his chorus hooks is both a little depressing and wonderful as a fan.
My favorite song on the album is “Shot for Me.” It is what I would call ‘sensitively arrogant.’ He’s telling all the girls from his past that they made a big mistake – just look at how famous he is! – but later wrestling with the fact that he still does miss them, and he’s hurt by some of the rumors that went around when he was with them. And after all of it, he seems to sincerely wish them the best while realizing that they are most likely beat up inside as well. It has an understated beat/melody and works beautifully as a pseudo-start to the album. (As the 2nd track)
I also must say that I have been shamelessly using YOLO recently. Some of my friends and I have been abusing it, realizing that it’s a bit ridiculous while also not caring because most of my American friends have left me for good or at least for the summer. I’ll also always take solace in the fact that not only did Drake drop YOLO on us, but listening through Take Care for the umpteenth time on repeat last weekend, I felt as if Rick Ross was personally speaking to me with ‘You Only Live Once!’
J Will Out…
Tres Metros Sobre El Cielo or Three Meters Above Heaven is a Spanish film that came out late in 2010 based on an Italian novel of the same name. It follows the story of two young lovers from different worlds and the inherent problems that come from mixing divergent backgrounds. After seeing promos for it on TV and around the city of Madrid when it was first premiering, I was intrigued and had some ‘ganas’ to see it. The closest this had come to actually happening before last week was last fall when a family I tutored tried to give it to me through a pen drive. It didn’t take and I more or less forgot about it.
However, on the 4th last week, while doing my patriotic duty by drinking Budweiser and correcting some papers, it came on TV and I thought I’d start watching it just to see. It pretty much immediately grabbed my attention, so I left the papers to the side (luckily commercial breaks here last about 8 minutes so I did both) and become engrossed by what I saw.
It follows a storyline we’ve all seen before. Good girl, bad boy. Good girl falls for bad boy. Bad boy gets good girl in trouble. Good girl is torn emotionally. And to that effect, it could have been just another one of those stories. But for many reasons it wasn’t. Principally, with all the odds stacked against it, the film does its best to avoid cheesy. Not completely, but mostly, which is more than the majority of like films can claim. Also, the chemistry between the leads is paramount to oblige the audience into their own belief of the story. Individually, they both give their characters a necessary depth beyond just “I really like this person.” And it didn’t hurt (at least on my part) that the lead actress, Maria Valverde, had me in love with her (like all other Spanish women I ever see) from the first interview I saw her do for promotion a year and a half ago.
The dialogue is crisp and relevant, the directing is solid, and the overall story is emotionally strong. While watching, you really feel for the characters and what is to become of them. A sequel just came out (based on the subsequent Italian novel) and I’m definitely in on that. If you ever get the chance to watch what some in the Spanish media have dubbed as ‘Romeo and Juliet 2.0’ I suggest you take that chance. It really is one of my favorite foreign films I’ve seen in a while.
NBA Finals Preview
Before I get into all things Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder, a quick point about the Boston Celtics. The fact that the Celtics had to lose the final two games of their series against the Heat to end their season is remarkable. Now twice in the past three years (this and the 2010 Finals against the Lakers) they have defied the process of time and aging, and made it further than they should have. Although I’m by no means a Celtics fan, I badly wanted them to beat the Heat (for reasons I will expand on soon). And I was legitimately disappointed when LeBron went all LeBron in game 6 and essentially ended the series by himself. With all that being said, I feel fairly confident in saying this Celtics team has seen its last stand.
Also quickly, I’m not going to go all “journalism” here and refer to the Heat or Thunder as “it.” They ARE teams, so THEY will be referred to in that way.
Tonight is game 1 between the two, and I am proud to say that I do care about the outcome. For better or for worse, I’m riding the Kevin Durant and “crew” train. Why? Because I hated the decision; the collusion; the egos; because for some weird reason I don’t want LeBron to win; and because nobody roots for Miami, not even those from Miami. So I want them to win, but will they?
My gut says yes. Kevin Durant is a great player, probably top 3 in the league, but LeBron is still better. However, I don’t see a superhuman LeBron single-handedly winning a 7 game series. The Thunder have a better team, and an inconsistent D Wade and a most likely still somewhat injured Chris Bosh will not be enough to win against a fully healthy Thunder team. If the Thunder do suffer an injury or give away any games, the Heat may steal these Finals.
Based on what I’ve seen during each respective Conference Finals, the key matchup in my opinion will be who can guard James Harden if he gets hot. Not that KD and LeBron will necessarily cancel each other out, but if LeBron if forced to give all of himself on the defensive end against Durant, and D Wade can stop (or slow down) Russell Westbrook, that leaves Harden matched-up against a lesser perimeter defender. The way he can attack the rim and make something out of nothing on a broken play is something that can tip a series.
However, one thing the Thunder must be wary of (other than LeBron, once again, going all LeBron) is a potential regression of Westbrook. He has been much more efficient and aware this postseason compared to last, especially in realizing who the best player on the floor is – and spoiler alert! It’s not him. However there were times in the San Antonio series when it looked like he forgot Durant was on the court, and that cannot happen. He is too superior in his athletic gifts to get sloppy or greedy on offense. Understanding, at times, that simply passing the ball to the best scorer in the game would be his best move will do wonders for his team.
On the flip side, something that Miami can secretly be hopeful for is Dwayne Wade becoming 2006 Dwayne Wade and Batman #2 all series. Think games 4 and 5 against Indiana EVERY game now in the finals. He may still be a little banged up, but his overall play against Boston won’t get it done against Oklahoma City. The reason simply is that the Thunder are much more complete than Boston was. If the Heat underperform for a few games (or possibly even one), they will lose the series. However, having LeBron and Wade play their best together gives them a shot.
Like I said, my gut tells me this is the Thunder’s series to lose. And the basketball world, including this Miami “super” team and my Denver Nuggets, better get ready if they win a year before they are really ready. Sports are always unpredictable, but this team has all the makings of a dynasty. They have Durant and Westbrook locked into long term deals, and they make up part of a core of players all under 24. If Miami can’t somehow steal this one, their ‘…not one, not two, not three’ prophecy might stay stuck at ZERO for the foreseeable future.
(Cue John Tesh’s “NBA on NBC” for nostalgia’s sake)
Well, figuratively AND literally in the world we’re talking about. The insanity that is True Blood returns for a 5th season this Sunday, June 10th. For the last few weeks I’ve been: recapping season 3 with YouTube clips, watching season 4 in its entirety online, and previewing season 5 over and over again. I’m all in, and have been since the start of season 2. To be honest, when I started getting in to the show back in the summer of 2009, I had NO idea what I was watching. It went a little like this: “What the fuck?!”…“Oh, ok”…“This show is awesome!” The show in and of itself has become something of a societal phenomenon, with ratings through the roof (although ratings aren’t vitally important on a pay-for-viewing setup like HBO) and cultural one-liners everywhere. Sookie! Vampires! Lousiana!
So what will this season bring? Any other answer than “who knows?” would seem naïve. Each season brings something new into the fold. Werewolves and Witches. New characters with supernatural powers we didn’t even know existed in the world of fantasy. Different nuances of the vampire sector. What I love about the show is how it manages to corral the insanity. There is so much going on at any given moment, with the things that are going on being seemingly ridiculous, but we remain engaged. Why? Well, each hour of True Blood is a roller-coaster ride that leaves you in the mindset of “Can’t wait til next week!” It’s also really funny. It can sometimes be overt, sometimes subtle, but overall the humor is underrated. And whether it’s exciting, dramatic, or funny, each episode is always wildly entertaining. And each season is something during the summer I’m always looking forward to.
So you should watch. If you haven’t started yet, it’s not too late. To catch up on 4 seasons seems tough, but whether it’s online, Netflix, or whatever, it’s an addicting process. Set a few days aside and do work. I promise that you won’t regret it. However, also be careful who you watch it with. It’s sexual. It’s violent. I’d like to tell my parents in the nicest way possible that I NEVER PLAN TO WATCH THIS WITH YOU AGAIN. It was awkward. It gets away with things that only HBO could think of.
So it is back. Sunday. Let’s do this. I’ll plan on writing a longer piece sometime during the season, but for now – The wait is over!
John Mayer’s Born and Raised
Two and a half years removed from the release of his last album, and two years removed from the release of himself from the public light, John Mayer presents with Born and Raised. He has always been in my mind an amazingly gifted musician in three separate aspects: composing, vocals, and guitar-playing. However, he had in recent years added a fourth aspect to his gifts – douchebag extraordinaire. From interviews with various publications and this aura he had put on as to say “I’m cooler than you, and I’m going to do everything I can to prove it…” He may have forgot that the sentence ends with “…I’m a big douche.”
In his self-isolation and promotion of the album – which won’t see a tour because of throat surgery – he, up to this point, seems genuinely remorseful for some of the things he said or did. It seems like he understands why there was so much backlash. If true, it can only mean good things musically.
John Mayer can drop the hammer lyrically like few others. My favorite song off his last album Battle Studies, “Edge of Desire” contains the bars: ‘Don’t say a word just come over and lie here with me/Cause I’m just about to set fire, to everything I see/I want you so bad I’ll go back on the things I believe/There I just said it, I’m scared you’ll forget about me.’ Basically, he is a great writer. However, his greatest attribute is strapped over his shoulder. For my money (and clearly I’m no expert) John is one of the 20 most blessed human beings to ever pick up a guitar. He is capable of things good guitar players couldn’t even dream of. And while Born and Raised doesn’t have a “Gravity” or a blues homage like “Crossroads,” part of experiencing anything he ever does is seeing him live. It makes it even more of a downer that he can’t sing for a while, because when he is on his game, watching him manipulate the guitar is a sight. Maybe I’ll be back in the states by the time he is promoting this album, and be able to watch as he turns a 4 minute “Queen of California” into a 12-15 minute clinic.
With all that being said, let’s get more album specific.
“Shadow Days” – The lead single certainly sets the tone for the rest of the record. Lyrically strong and open with a certain twang in the melody to boot, I could certainly see myself pumping this on the stereo during a road trip into the wilderness. Possibly my favorite line on the whole album resides here in the second verse: ‘It sucks to be honest/And it hurts to be real/But it’s nice to make some love that I can finally feel’
“Something Like Olivia” – For whatever reason, the first couple of times that I heard this one, I was lukewarm. However, the more I listen, the more I find myself engrossed. The blues melody is jive-worthy, and is boosted by some understated but sweet organ during the verses. I thought the lyrics were average at first, but then I realized they didn’t need to be great and I’m beginning to think they are actually much better than I first thought. A first-rate blues ditty.
“Born and Raised” – I’ve always been partial to album titles that aren’t named after a song on the record, and Mayer has never done that. However, this happens to be the first JM album that makes use of a title track. The decision here makes sense because this is the best and most complete song on the album. In a poetic and brutally honest matter, John tells us about his parents recent divorce: ‘Still got time/Still got faith/I call on both of my brothers/I got a mom/I got a dad/But they do not have each other.’ Just one of the highlights of a highly introspective song that really gives credence to the idea that he’s learned from his mistakes. And it reminds us that none of us stand free of our own blemishes.
“Love is a Verb” – On John’s answer to Extreme’s “More than Words” he simply states: ‘Love ain’t a thing/Love is a verb.’ Another understated track, I can’t help but feel John may have also been pointing the finger at himself with his advice.
“Fool to Love You” – This bonus track is certainly worth the price of whatever iTunes determines ‘bonus’ material to be. Love the harmonica, and the “I’m Gonna Find Another You’ feel. This blues-inspired song highlights where he is at his best – his roots.
Now I’m not ready to declare this the best JM album to date. I believe that still goes to Continuum. However, it feels appropriate and in some ways necessary, which is all you can ask as an artist like John who has his celebrity. Time will only tell if his admittance of transgressions and readiness to repent is sincere. But in the mean time we have another complete Mayer record to thoroughly enjoy.