Monday, May 10, 2010

Scorpions: "Loving You Sunday Morning"

Got in one of my periodic metal moods the other day. Metal is good for working out in the gym. This time around it was the Scorpions.

Priest, I decided last time, was about precision. Scorpions have a little of that, too, but the overall impression is slightly different; one of orderliness. (I'm talking classic Scorps here: I know nothing about them before Lovedrive.) Drawing on my high-school level knowledge of music I can observe that their basic mode is the constant monotonal eighth-note rhythm of the second guitar and bass in unison, over which they lay various carefully-measured riffs and fills. "Can't Live Without You" is maybe the best example of it.

"Loving You Sunday Morning," though, is my favorite Scorps. It has all their virtues. Again, that absolutely orderly (the essentialist idea of German efficiency springs to mind, and for all their bad-boy posturings I do think the Scorps embody that) rhythmic bed. At the time it sounded so hard, so much less squishily human than anything else on the radio - now that metal has explored all sorts of industrial hells, the essential safeness of the Scorps is revealed. But that's not a bad thing, either.

Over it they have a melody that's almost - dare I say it? - soulful. That chorus, with those careful harmonies - it's a late spring Sunday morning driving fast on the back roads in dappled sunshine through the deep woods, maybe the mountains. A German car, of course, black interior, but it doesn't have to be a Benz; a VW is more like it. Maybe even a microbus - it's still the '70s, after all. Anyway, you're tooling along, the road's got enough dips and curves to be exhilarating, you've got a pile of tapes in the passenger seat, all's right with the world, no emotional baggage, just pure clean feeling. The Scorps' limited English works in their favor: "I never ever want to lose your love / so I will change my life." It's jejune, and it captures some kind of youthful sincerity in love. When was the last time you were willing to change your life for someone? And why?

The guitar solo. The solo itself, yeah, but more than that how they lead into it. "Ahhhh" - that soft psychedelic touch, the gentle introduction of a tragic mood - "bapbapbapbapbap" - the rising tension - and then dig how neatly and certainly they carry you over the top of the roller coaster, and zooom, the guitar solo kicks in. The rhythm changes to something a little more agitated, while still quite orderly and clean, and the guitar solo comes in to rearrange your face a little bit. Let it: you'll look better once it's done.

It's a classic bit of pop songcraft, is what it is, delivered in a metal sonic vocabulary that was still fresh in 1979.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Wong Kar-wai's As Tears Go By (1988)

The plot of As Tears Go By ("a small time gangster trying to keep his smaller time gangster friend out of trouble," as Wikipedia says, crossed with what Mrs. Sgt. T called the old Uptown Girl-Downtown Guy motif) is pretty conventional. That matters - for about fifteen minutes.

After that, the movie's fervid pacing and fevered visuals, not to mention the frantic performances, make you believe. It helps if you have nothing against good old-fashioned melodrama, because that's what the gangsters here provide - Andy's Lau's main character is cool and collected, but his "brothers" are so hot-headed they make Sonny Corleone look prudent, while also being so inept they make Fredo look like a real gangster.

So on the one hand Andy Lau is trying to keep the lid on gangland tensions involving his charges, and on the other he's trying to start up a romance with his gorgeous cousin Maggie Cheung. Here's where the English title and the subtitles obscure some of the (perfectly hackneyed) subtext: he's from a particularly seedy part of Kowloon called Mongkok (which the Chinese title references), and she's from an island in the harbor. Different sides of the tracks, so to speak, so to him she represents not just all the feminine allure that Maggie Cheung represents for all of us, but also, you know, Escape. Again, nothing new here. But Lau does a great job of showing us a man torn between his loyalty to his street and his longing for her island - he's convincingly too cool for Mongkok, but too rough for Maggie's world.

And the visuals. That's what it comes down to. I lived through this era, and Mrs. Sgt. T was living in Hong Kong in this era, and Wong perfectly captures a certain vision of the era. The oversaturated reds and blues, the smoky darknesses and harsh angled lights: it was the Blade Runner vision of East Asia, as seen through the masterful lens of a young and gonzo Wong Kar-wai - and inhabited by characters dressed in stone-washed jeans and muscle shirts. The opening shot, where our cheeks are pressed up against a wall of glowing cathode-ray tubes, says everything: we're going to be thrust right into an electrified, staticky night world, long on passion and short on class. Red Lips Bar, one setting is called. Yeah, dude.

It's all set to a soundtrack that could only have come at the awesome end of the Giorgio Morder synth decade. "Take My Breath Away" sounds even better in Sandy Lam's version than Berlin's.