TIME Music

REVIEW: Alvvays Make Sunny Guitar-Pop Gold on Self-Titled Debut

Polyvinyl / Transgressive

The Canadian pop band's sunny debut puts lead singer Molly Rankin in fine company

From laconic, wise-cracking slackers like Stephen Malkmus and Bethany Cosentino to starry-eyed romantics like Stuart Murdoch and Tracyanne Campbell, the history of left-field, literate indie pop is littered with idiosyncratic, effortlessly charming vocalists. Molly Rankin, the woman who leads Canadian five-piece Alvvays, is a descendent of both lines; she’s a madcap schemer and a bleeding heart, equally likely to scamper away after tripping over her own feet and to plead a male pal to reconsider his disdain for the institution of marriage. Her actual genealogy is just as impressive as her musical ancestry: Rankin is a member of the Rankin Family, Canadian folk luminaries who have written and toured across the country for decades. She cut her teeth as part of the family’s band before striking out on her own with a 2010 EP; that solo project gradually picked up friends and nearby musicians and morphed into Alvvays. The band’s eponymous debut full-length is smart, sharp guitar pop, with songs shaped by lyrical playfulness, chiming, melodic leads, and Rankin’s bell-clear, yearning voice.

The band’s songwriting is possessed of both an impressive ear for structure and a remarkable generosity. Songs build in discrete steps to emotional crescendos, then hang there or ascend to an even higher level, rewarding listeners with a new melody or another round of a potent chorus; crisp, clean lines like the ones that mark “Adult Diversion” and “Archie, Marry Me” return for curtain calls, unfurling over top of simple, metronomic rhythms. The high level of execution is a necessity: many bands have written songs like this before, and well, so each new track requires a certain indelibility in order to stand out. The band is also differentiated by lesser peers by the strength of Rankin’s character. She’s immediately familiar and relatable, fully realized in a way that’s quite impressive given this is Alvvays’ debut; she could be the girl sitting across from you in a seminar, speeding with intent down a bike lane, relaxing in a park with a wide-brimmed hat. She spends a lot of time singing about love, and navigates that fraught terrain with an exuberance and palpable anxiety that belies her youth. It’s a perspective that equally suits jangling, up-tempo cuts like “Adult Diversion” and “Atop a Cake” and dreamier, more wistful songs like highlights “Ones Who Love You” and “The Agency Group.” Her voice, pure as spring water and able to easily reach lofty, piercing notes, is best served by the latter pair of tracks; she has a deft hand with heartbreak.

In the moments when listeners are able to tear themselves away from the band’s sticky, simple guitar lines, they’re rewarded with a lyrical wit and intelligence that nicely complements Rankin’s erudite persona. Spend enough time around smart people and you’ll meet characters who clearly derive personal satisfaction from putting together exquisite sentences and dropping ten-dollar words; it’s a precious source of joy, sure, but it’s infectious all the same. The members of Alvvays fit that mold: when Rankin tries to convince a romantic partner to stick around on “Party Police” by telling him that “we can find comfort in debauchery,” it’s easy to imagine the sparkle in her eye and the half-grin plastered on her face. It’s to the band’s credit that their toying with vocabulary and phrasing feels inclusive, rather than smug, and those aforementioned melodies act like gateways into their wordy world. It’s those two strengths, and Rankin’s innate likeability, that separate Alvvays from their peers in a genre that’s always ripe with aspiring stars.

TIME Music

REVIEW: 2 Chainz Returns to Form on Freebase EP

Freebase EP
The Real University

The rapper's new E.P brims with menacing swagger and ferocious beats

This post is in partnership with NME.

2 Chainz is back with a bang. Compared to his last two overcooked albums, 2013’s B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time and the 2012’s Based on a T.R.U. Story, Freebase is solid southern hip hop. ”I keep shitting on the competition, so I’m put me out a shittape” he brags on the title track; and the rest is equally hubristic. Though the themes are over-familiar hustler fare — “Trap Back” is about drug dealing, “Crib in My Closet” has him and A$AP Rocky boasting about their ”designer shit” and “Cuda Wuda Shuda” is a diss track to all his envious rivals — the EP brims with menacing swagger and ferocious beats. Lyrically 2 Chainz knows he’s no street Shakespeare, but as this EP shows, he certainly knows his way around an arresting tune.

More from NME: Listen to a teenage Eminem rapping on track ‘Pooh Butt Daily’

More from NME: 9 Stunning Photos Of The Beatles And Other Counter-Culture Icons By Photo Legend Terry Spencer

TIME Television

REVIEW: The Lottery

James Dittiger/Lifetime

Lifetime's venture into sci-fi is the latest TV drama centered on reproduction. But hoo baby, is it ridiculous.

Long before the Hobby Lobby decision, current TV has had reproduction on the brain–not just sex, but fertility, baby-making and their repercussions.

Orphan Black deals with the results of cloning gone awry; NBC remade O.B. horror story Rosemary’s Baby; CBS’s new sci-fi drama Extant is about both an astronaut’s mysterious conception of a baby in space and the android son she and her husband raise after having fertility issues. And Showtime’s Masters of Sex, just beginning a very strong second season, is not just about fireworks in bed but the medicine of fertility, obstetrics and contraception and how reproductive health–and who makes the decisions about it–affects every other part of women’s lives.

Now Lifetime’s The Lottery, premiering Sunday, makes baby-mania the stuff of dystopian sci-fi. Unfortunately, this baby was full of possibility in its conception, but it’s not hitting its developmental milestones.

It’s the mid-2020s, six years after the last human baby was born, amid a sudden, unexplained drop in fertility, and the world is learning What to Expect When No One Is Expecting. As the species faces extinction, women are subjected to mandatory fertility testing, a female “Uncle Sam” in a bikini implores men to donate sperm and a U.S. Department of Humanity prosecutes “fertility crimes,” including scams that promise babies to desperate would-be parents.

Amid the crisis, researcher Alison Lennon (Marley Shelton), has a breakthrough, successfully creating 100 embryos. The government thanks her, commandeers her lab, and announces that it will choose the hundred lucky new moms by, yes, lottery. But the administration appears to be up to something shady, as first evidenced by the fact that a top adviser is played by Martin Donovan. (No offense to the actor, but when’s the last time you’ve seen him in a role like this and thought, “Yep, I bet I can completely trust this character!”) In this newborn-starved world, the hand that controls the cradles rules the world, and Lennon makes it her quest to find out what ends her work is being put to.

Reproduction is, well, fertile ground for dystopian fiction. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale imagined a totalitarian state that held women by the uterus. And Children of Men–whose Timothy J. Sexton writes and produces Lottery–took place in the hopeless aftermath of a similar baby drought.

But whatever potential The Lottery has to look at the connection between fertility and power, or the timely issues of women’s reproductive autonomy–or a simple dramatic fight over the future of the species–is wasted with flat characters and flimsy political intrigue that plays like a duller version of Scandal. (At one point, the President’s advisers discuss the danger of a “recall election,” with no mention of how we quickly managed to rewrite the Constitution to provide for one, or why a fertility crisis would cause it.) It doesn’t help that the show introduces Lennon as a woman on the prowl for a baby daddy, or that its scenes in the lab are written like Drunk Biology. “Behold, the first viable human embryo in six years,” someone actually says. Behold!

Meanwhile, the pilot devotes long, slow stretches to the single dad (Michael Graziadei) of one of that planet’s last remaining six-year-olds, trying to keep his son out of the clutches of a prying government and of his neighborhood’s circling, baby-mad would-be moms. Presumably this story and Lennon’s will eventually intersect. And eventually, maybe, the series will develop some ideas beyond, “People really want to have babies!” But I’m not sure I’ll stick around to see its story come to term.

TIME Music

REVIEW: The Fun in “Weird Al” Yankovic’s New Album, Mandatory Fun

Mandatory Fun

How does Weird Al's new album stack up against classics like 'Bad Hair Day'?

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

Having already looked at the very best of the “Weird Al” catalog, Consequence of Sound’s Matt Melis and Ben Kaye recently sat down with staff writer Henry Hauser to chat about the Weird one’s new record, Mandatory Fun.

Matt Melis (MM): For more than 30 years, “Weird Al” Yankovic albums have provided a nerdy, zany, irreverent excuse to throw a party. But the fascist, propaganda-inspired cover art, promotional “transmissions,” and title of Yankovic’s new album, Mandatory Fun, convey a far more uncompromising message: Join the party, or else! Yes, Big Brother Al is watching you, us, and apparently Lorde and Iggy Azalea, and hell hath no fury like a goose-stepping, polka-loving dictator who doesn’t get his state-mandated yuks. So, Henry and Ben, at the risk of life-threatening reprisal if you answer in the negative, did you have fun listening to Dear Leader’s latest album?

Henry Hauser (HH): While it’s no Bad Hair Day, I still found myself chuckling and snort-laughing throughout Al’s latest. Sure, Mandatory Fun is cheap, juvenile, and often downright grating, but damn if it isn’t good for a couple of laughs.

From Mr. Yankovic’s impassioned ode to the supremacy of aluminum over inferior forms of food preservation (“Foil”) to his biting satire of LA celebrity worship (“Lame Claim to Fame”) and adroit portrayal of creepy corporate evangelism (“Mission Statement”, a style parody reminiscent of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”), Al brings his A-game. He’s clearly got impeccable rhyming chops, spinning off lines like “Fungal rot, bacterial formation/ Microbes, enzymes, mold, and oxidation” on “Foil”, a delicious parody of “Royals” that could easily have made the cut on 1993’s The Food Album. Al even ventures back into the realm of meta-parody with polka medley “NOW That’s What I Call Polka!”, mocking almost 40% the Top 40 in just over four minutes.

But there’s also something slightly disturbing about the album. On more than one occasion, I actually forgot that I was listening to parodies. The prevalence of Auto-Tune, paper-thin lyrics, and re-re-re-recycled vocal melodies in pop music all blur the distinction between Al’s lampoons and the chart-topping drench that which “NOW…we call music.” Pop stars are scorching “Weird Al”’s terrain; at this rate, he’ll be parodying his own parodies.

Ben Kaye (BK): Did I have fun listening? Of course I did; it’s a “Weird Al” album! How could you not enjoy a record that includes a polka mash-up of pop smashes? That’s actually what makes critically listening to an Al album such a challenge: There’s really nothing to judge it against besides past efforts. So, I suppose the real question is how this new collection of parodies stacks up against those works, and from that perspective, it’s definitely a success. Mandatory Fun sits comfortably amongst the best of Al’s post-Bad Hair Day releases, and I do think that’s the benchmark at this point. Directly comparing the modern stuff to the material you heard as a kid isn’t fair to the newer works; they’re never going to have that nostalgia attached to them, and they’re not “time capsules” for at least five years.

But that’s looking at the big picture before tackling the individual parodies, so let me backtrack some. There’s a lot to make you smile here; the lethargic pace of Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” is perfect for “Inactive”, “NOW That’s What I Call Polka!” is as wonderfully titled as the tracklist is selected, and even “Tacky” (parodying Pharrell’s “Happy”) has its moments. The first half of “Foil” is great, and that bridge you mentioned, Henry, was the first time I audibly laughed. However, I keep wishing he’d stuck with the food humor instead of the weird switch to Illuminati jokes so it really could’ve been on The Food Album. Things like that make me struggle to find the parody that’s going to sweep the nation, though if there’s one song that could go viral, I’d point to “Word Crimes”. Maybe it’s the writer/English teacher in me, but I think this is the shining moment of the album. Part of that is definitely Pharrell, because even as a parody, “Blurred Lines” is catchy as hell. Still, Al’s lyrics are as sharp as ever here, and lines like “You should never/ Write words using numbers/ Unless you’re seven/Or your name is Prince” have kept me chuckling through multiple listens. And I’m so with him on homophones; I’ve been reading too many things lately that mix up “further” and “farther.”

MM: I’m not nearly as impressed by the new parodies. As Henry suggested, maybe the quality of the source material is problematic. Like Al once told Eminem in a fake AL TV interview, “Give me a break. I could only change the words. I couldn’t change the music, too.” Al’s just doing what he always does: parodying whatever we’ve hoisted atop a pop culture pedestal. How could he not try and tackle Lorde or Pharrell? But, there’s that fine line in parodies between funny and merely figuring out how to make something fit. Really, who’s going to get many laughs out of “Handy” apart from that nonexistent cross-section of Bob Vila and Iggy Azalea fans? Same goes for “Tacky”’s faux pas cataloging. Clever, sure. Funny? Not really.

“Word Crimes” absolutely tops the parodies. It’s a brilliant reminder that grammar and spelling still count in Al’s book, and, yes, Ben, love that Prince line, a subtle dig at the great purple one who has shot down Al’s parody requests for years. And how ambitious (and unexpected) was “Mission Statement”? It’s a George Carlin skit on the dilution of language set to CSN harmonies. The song sounds amazing, but I guess I’m wondering how often I’m going to want to hear all those corporate buzz words strung together. (I’m going to have “synergyyyyy…” in three-part harmony stuck in my head for a long while.) I guarantee this song becomes a widespread boardroom favorite at some point, though.

But let’s hear a little bit more about the non-parody cuts here. And what about the eight videos in eight days, which Al began releasing the day before the record’s release. Speculation? Any song you’re dying to see a video for?

BK: To clarify, I’m not 100% thrilled with the parodies either. “Tacky” only has moments, and I agree that “Handy” is weak, perhaps his weakest opening track since “Living with a Hernia”. Matt, you’re right that he has to play the hand the Top 40 deals, but he could’ve concocted a better topic there.

As for the non-parody stuff, “Sports Song” and “Jackson Park Express” are quintessential Al tracks. The former sounds ripped from Al TV, and the latter is another great execution of his rambling nonsense tales. I just love that he sticks to these tropes that, let’s face it, have never been what made him famous. I can just imagine summer camp kids turning “Sports Song” into a team cheer during color war. (If you know, you know.) But besides those two, “Lame Claim to Fame”, “My Own Eyes”, and “First World Problems” all rely too heavily on listicle-style humor for me. I know this is nothing new for Al, but the jokes don’t hit home as often with this trio of tracks. And I wanted to love “First World Problems” because the topic is so #IRL, but I just don’t feel it as much as “JPE”, which, to be fair, also goes the listing route, though at least there’s some level of storytelling.

I think it’s safe to guess that “Handy”, “Foil”, “Tacky”, and “Word Crimes” will all end up with videos, if for no other reason than the popularity of the original songs. I can’t wait for “Word Crimes”, obviously, and think the right clip could really give that some legs on the ‘Net. Some guy did a sort of brilliant Flash video for “Albuquerque” years ago, and I’d love to see something similar and official for “Jackson Park Express”. Is that too much wishful thinking, Henry?

HH: I’d be pretty interested to see how the video for “Mission Statement” turns out. Apparently, the song was inspired by all the executive meetings that Al’s endured over the course of his 30-plus-year career. Plus, the dogmatic feel of those corporate retreats jives really well with the album’s faux-fascist title and cover art. And, as we all know, synergy is a great way for Mr. Y to “advance [his] market share vis à vis a proven methodology.”

MM: Is the marching band-led “Sports Song” Al’s first sports-related song ever? As a recovering sports junkie, sober now for about five years, I couldn’t appreciate it more. It’s an instant classic from that opening line: “Your sports team is vastly inferior/ That simple fact is plainly obvious to see/ We’re going to kick your collective posterior.” Every college team needs to adopt this as its fight song immediately. Of course, this would lead to multiple homicides every weekend during football season.

On the nine-minute Cat Stevens strummer “Jackson Park Express”, Al relates one of the great love stories of our time. Granted, it takes place on a bus, the girl is totally oblivious, and the entire relationship consists of Al’s reading into a series of incidental, non-verbal gestures (e.g., “Then she let out a long sigh, which I took to mean/ Oh, Mama/ ‘What is that deodorant you’re wearing?/ It’s intoxicating!’”) Alas, no love can last forever, or in Al’s case, not even a bus ride. It’s nine minutes that never drags, draws numerous laughs, and showcases Al’s knack for delightful absurdity, spot-on style parodies, and even the type of subtle, observational wordplay you’d more likely find in a Flight of the Conchords song.

These moments render the title Mandatory Fun totally unnecessary. And I’m not just saying that because the eyes on this album cover seem to be following me across the room.

Essential Tracks: “Word Crimes”, “Jackson Park Express”, and “Foil”

More from Consequence of Sound: Morrissey’s Top 10 Songs

More from Consequence of Sound: The New Pornographers share new song/video “War on the East Coast”

TIME Television

REVIEW: The Divide

Marin Ireland in The Divide. WE

A new drama about guilt and innocence, justice and race, is much less black-and-white than you might think.

It’s generally a good thing for a new series to introduce itself with a clear, simple title, but in the case of The Divide, the first scripted drama from WeTV, the title makes it seem much more simple than it is. The eight-episode legal drama is, in brief, about a controversial effort to reopen the death-penalty convictions of two white prisoners in the murder of a black family. You might assume, then, that the show is about a single, sharp, unambiguous divide between white Americans and black Americans in the justice system–the law-drama equivalent of Crash.

But to its credit, and like the case it begins to explore in its two-hour premiere Wednesday night, The Divide is much more complicated than it seems. Yes, there is a racial divide at the center of the show: Christine Rosa (Marin Ireland), an advocate for a Philadelphia group based on the Innocence Project, and most of her colleagues working to overturn what they believe to be wrongful convictions, are white. District attorney Adam Page (Damon Gupton), his police-commissioner father (Clarke Peters) and the surviving daughter of the victims are black.

As the case unfolds, however, it becomes clear that neither side of this (purposely unsettled) case has a monopoly on righteousness or ethical conflict. Christine and Adam are each driven, if to different ends, and each is vulnerable to being blinded by their determination and external motivations. (He’s politically ambitious; her father is in jail for a crime she knows he’s innocent of because she was with him when it happened.)

The divides that emerge in this series are not simply between two races but between prosecution and defense, between the desire for justice and for resolution. In the two-hour premiere, we get to see multiple sides of each character, including the inmates–who, the script suggests, may be innocent, may be guilty, may be innocent of this crime yet bad people in other ways. There’s a remarkable scene between one convict (Chris Bauer) and his mother (Ann Dowd) before his scheduled last meal, for which he requested a brand of hot dogs he used to hate when she served them when he was a kid–it packs a while life’s history of mutual blame and sorrow into a few brief minutes.

There’s a certain amount of melodrama in the premiere (which is all that was previewed for critics), but the beginning fits a fair amount of nuance into a package that could have been a soapbox. Ireland in particular gives Christine fine shading, and the way that race plays into the story–and into Adam’s career ambitions–feels more natural than engineered. The Divide provides a good head start on a fall network season that’s unusually diverse in its casting; if The Divide continues the way it started, it will set an example of how to tell stories of black and white (and brown, and yellow…) in shades of gray.

TIME Television

REVIEW: Married, With Issues, on USA’s Satisfaction and FX’s Married

Guy D'Alema/USA Network

A new drama and comedy premiering Thursday night each put the "we" in "ennui."

I hope it doesn’t say anything about the home lives of the TV-development community, but Thursday night, two networks are premiering a drama and a comedy about marriage, malaise and infidelity–and the drama is the more lighthearted of the two.

That drama, Satisfaction, is still more heavy than USA’s trademark joyrides like Suits, which it already departs from because it isn’t about wisecracking con artists, spies, doctors or lawyers. (Fans of old-school USA might instead watch the new Rush, also on Thursday, a drama about an L.A. doctor-to-the-stars that’s a sort of Royal Pains West.) Protagonist Neil Truman (Matt Passmore) does have a suit (he’s an investment advisor for a successful and soulless firm) but we meet him in the process of shedding it. Fed up with his stressful job, disillusioned by his outwardly perfect life, he blows a gasket on a plane stranded on a tarmac–a seeming homage to JetBlue attendant Steven Slater’s 2010 deplaning–becomes a YouTube folk hero, quits his job and goes home to tell his wife, Grace (Stephanie Szostak), the news. But–

SPOILER ALERT, I guess: this paragraph reveals some twists early in Satisfaction’s pilot that are almost meaningless to discuss the show without, since they set up the series’ premise. Ready? Grace, as Neil discovers is (twist 1) having an affair–or not a love affair, exactly, because (twist 2) she’s seeing a male escort, whose cell phone Neil ends up coming in possession of. Which leads him–jobless, distraught and not having told Grace he knows her secret–to get a call from one of the hooker’s clients and decide to (twist 3) try a second career as an escort himself.

It’s a variation of the premise of HBO’s Hung, with a motive of depression rather than recession. But while USA may be ready move out of its light-escapist comfort zone–feeling a little restless itself, maybe–I’m not yet sure Satisfaction is committed enough to see through the premise in an interesting way. What the network is positioning Satisfaction as, and what it feels like it should be, is a morally complex story of two people experimenting with what makes them happy, the TV equivalent of a ‘70s adult-relationship movie. And for maybe a half-hour, the pilot feels like that.

But it takes two people to be in an unhappy marriage, and we don’t get much of Grace’s perspective but a short, perfunctory detour–she’s bored, “No one has wanted me in so long,” &c. And the back half of Satisfaction‘s premiere seems to lose its nerve, focusing more on Neil’s sexy escapades than what’s eating at his soul. Cable is already full of middle-aged men who learn to “feel alive” again by walking on the wild side; if USA wants to pull off the kind of story others have already told well, it’ll need to really commit to the premise, rather than just have a fling.

Prashant Gupta/FX

The first episode of FX’s comedy Married, on the other hand, has the opposite issue, and how. I was keenly excited for this one, out of an affection for stars Nat Faxon and Judy Greer–which the pilot very nearly killed. Their characters, Russ and Lina, have three daughters, too many bills and too little time. And in the first scene we see them in, he has an erection she wants nothing to do with: “We had a quickie a few weeks ago!” she complains.

It’s the world’s oldest joke about the world’s oldest activity; she’s tired and sour, he’s horny and whiny, and one day she exasperatedly suggests he “go and be with someone else,” which leads him to an inept effort to recruit a mistress. The episode is occasionally funny–John Hodgman and Jenny Slate are well-cast as Russ’ friends and sounding boards–but more often it’s mean and miserable. (If you love the idea that a running joke depends on Russ’ potential lover having a dog with the same name as the baby she miscarried, well, YMMV.)

Stick with Married, though, and it gets better–which is to say that Russ and Lina begin to turn into people. The series drops the mistress-hunting angle after the pilot and focuses on refining a raw but generous take on the strains of parenting: wondering if you’ve lost your identity, feeling sexually invisible, getting a vet bill and having to mentally calculate precisely how much you love the family pet, in dollar terms. In a way, Lina and Russ are the couple that USA might imagine plopping down at night and watching Satisfaction, being reassured that if they had more money they wouldn’t necessarily be any happier, though he’d have a better job to quit and she could afford a fancy hooker.

Russ and Lina don’t suddenly become cuddly, but they have a connection and the bleary-eyed solidarity that comes from years of shared sleep deprivation. A flawed-but-trying-harder Russ better fits Faxon’s specialty for playing the amiably clueless, and Lina becomes a character rather than a walking headache. In the fourth episode, she finds herself in the parents’ bind of being worn out by her kids yet sad at the idea of not having any more, which leads to an emotional trip to a thrift store to give away a used bassinet. “Can you estimate how much this stuff cost you?” the clerk asks her. “Um, my youth?” she says. “Every time I cough, I pee a little?” And the episode culminates in a round of phone sex that I won’t spoil, except to say that it’s both raunchily funny and a sharp picture of how Russ and Lina’s relationship works, for all its challenges. (If you prefer to have pre-married romance de-romanticized, FX is pairing Married with You’re the Worst, a jadedly raunchy love-hate-at-first-sight comedy.)

Married is not trying to be The Cosby Show, but if it keeps on this track it could become a show that strikes a balance between making you wince and making you laugh. Maybe hard enough to pee a little.

TIME Music

REVIEW: World Peace Is None of Your Business Is Definitively Morrissey


There's no room for vagueness when you're only releasing two or three albums a decade

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

Right on cue, as Morrissey releases his 10th solo album, the world’s attention moves to conflict in the Middle East. As I’m typing, the latest update is that Israeli forces are dropping leaflets in northern Gaza, warning Palestinian residents to move away from Hamas sites to avoid military strikes. The death toll of the attacks so far is approaching 170, which includes too many kids. As it turns out, the title track on World Peace Is None of Your Business — an ironic take on the value of democracy — opens the album, but it’s a deceptive start because it’s by far the most political song here. Also present are “Staircase at the University”, which satirizes academic expectations, and “I’m Not a Man”, which handcuffs popular notions of masculinity. Together, these three songs span the continuum of the Manchester native’s wisdom and accompanying snark. Those ingredients are key for tabulating his legacy with both The Smiths and as a solo artist, and also make sure this is definitively a Morrissey album.

From the beginning, many perceived Morrissey (and, to a lesser extent, his songwriting partner, Johnny Marr) as arrogant, which ultimately comes down to The Smiths’ artistic sureness throughout their incredibly productive four-year existence. They knew what they wanted, and soon enough, meaningful art was expected from them. World Peace Is None of Your Business, recorded in France with help from producer Joe Chiccarelli (The Strokes, Young the Giant, My Morning Jacket), has purpose, too. Musically, there are callbacks to Smiths and Morrissey solo albums going back more than 20 years, be it the sashaying pop of “Kiss Me a Lot” or the more ornate “Staircase at the University”. But there are also glimmers of a more refined taste; it’s one of the most European albums Morrissey has made, with ingredients like flamenco guitar, trumpet, and accordion. Meanwhile, based on this album alone, the age-old question of whether he’s an optimist despite all his dread should be answered in the negative. Thankfully, his ideas are still clear, written as they are under the assumption that there’s no room for vagueness when you’re only releasing two or three albums a decade.

Right away, “World Peace Is None of Your Business” is directed at you, the potential voter. Morrissey, who was clowning Margaret Thatcher as soon as he had an adequate stage, laments the stagnation of political unrest (i.e., what’s improving in nations that need the most monitoring?) while pretending it’s no big deal if we don’t know where our tax money is going. The message is agreeable, of course, and the titular refrain is one of the strongest on the album. The next op-ed, the eight-minute “I’m Not a Man”, which follows the two-chords-at-a-time fuzzbox stomp of “Neal Cassady Drops Dead”, is easily the biggest drag here. For that reason, it simply comes too early on the album. But while “I’m Not a Man” relies on simple stereotypes to makes its point (“T-bone steak/ Wolf down/ Cancer of the prostate,” goes the vegetarian), at least Morrissey knew exactly what he wanted to say. That’s the album in a nutshell: He’s been doing this songwriting thing long enough to know how to carry out his vision, at least once a central structure or passage presents itself. In the case of World Peace, it sounds like a lot of those initial sparks — the chord progressions, the hooks, etc. — illuminated the process even more than usual.

“Istanbul”, which details a difficult father-son relationship, is one of the only spots on the album where the blasting electric guitars don’t sound clunky; Boz Boorer and Jesse Tobias’s riffs are strong enough to drive the entire song. Accordingly, the remainder of the medium-rocking thing, which includes another successful hook, runs smooth. The sweeping “Staircase at the University” — which follows a young lady who studies hard for months only to come up short, GPA-wise, to the disappointment of her fam and friends — has a breeziness in direct conflict with the absurdist bloodshed: “Staircase at the university/ She threw herself down and her head split three ways.” (What’s more, something about the song, possibly the clapping rhythms, suggests Moz has a decent electropop record in him.) The album’s penultimate track, “Mountjoy”, is an acoustic-oriented getaway, its strums melting into one another and brushing beautifully against the arching, deliberate vocal.

Of course, Morrissey’s voice (that ageless wonder, always so fragile yet so under control) is the one guaranteed success here. Predictably, it’s the riskiest choices that pay the fewest dividends. “I’m Not a Man” is a slow-goer with uneven pacing and guitar work that hangs in the air, whereas it should match the snare’s pop. “Neal Cassady Drops Dead” has those macho guitar chords, which practically contradict the premise of “I’m Not a Man”. Finally, the closer, “Oboe Concerto”, is too loosely connected with its seemingly improvised instrumentation and digital zips, zaps, and drips, all of which distract from the song’s foundation, its basic shape. Fortunately, the album on the whole has enough of Morrissey’s strengths — the ones he established with Marr and co., first causing NME journos to wet their trousers 30 years ago — to be a mostly serviceable Morrissey album. More importantly, it’s destined for enough success that he probably won’t regret his delayed retirement.

Essential Tracks: “Istanbul”, “Staircase at the University”, and “Mountjoy”

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TIME Television

REVIEW: In the 24: Live Another Day Finale, Jack Bauer Feels Our Pain Again

24: LIVE ANOTHER DAY:  Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) makes an unthinkable decision in the "10:00 PM - 11:00 AM" Event Series Finale episode of 24: LIVE ANOTHER DAY airing Monday, July 14 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.  ©2014 Fox Broadcasting Co.  Cr:  Chris Raphael/FOX
Chris Raphael/FOX

Any dime-a-dozen action hero can save the country. In LAD's finale, Jack Bauer does again what he does best: suffering.

Spoilers for the 24: Live Another Day finale below:

The finale of 24: Live Another Day finally got down to business. No, I don’t mean the return of Cheng Zhi or the drone-override-device-threat by way of Catelyn Stark. (Incidentally, if you watched the first episodes of LAD and guessed, “I bet this all ends in a near-war with China,” you win the pool.) This being 24, those inconveniences were always going to be handled. But the final episode, “10:00 p.m. – 11:00 a.m.”–not a typo and more on that in a moment–movingly executed (so to speak) the real purpose of a 24 finale: making Jack Bauer suffer.

As I wrote in my season-opener review of this revival, suffering and sacrificing has always been Bauer’s ultimate job on 24, more so than saving the country. He may kill bad guys ingeniously, he may be help the President survive a drone-missile strike through, essentially, a video editing trick–but Bauer’s real service after 9/11 and for years beyond has been to take on himself the psychic pain of being a nation at war. It’s not enough that he save us, he must lose as well–lose his wife, his friends, his country’s trust and loyalty. He’s not just an action figure but America’s pin-bestudded emotional voodoo doll.

And while I would not have predicted that the franchise could have this kind of power after more than a dozen years, damned if this finale didn’t deliver. As usual, Kiefer Sutherland deserves much of the credit; 24 hurtles along on such a rocket engine of silliness that if it hadn’t cast someone capable of being emotionally believable in the midst of it, it would be a far worse show.

Bauer’s reaction to hearing about the death of his once-lover, Audrey, was a classic example–maybe one of Sutherland’s finest moments in the series. First, he does–well, almost nothing. 24 is so breakneck (literally and figuratively) that simply seeing someone stilled for a moment is a powerful image. He lowers the phone, slowly. He looks… old. Spent. Empty. He unstraps his rifle, as if, finally, he’s given up. You see the emotion flicker across his face–heartbreak, then rage. Then he rises, screaming and–well, people will get shot and impaled and finally decapitated execution-style, but the real fireworks just happened right there, right on Jack’s face.

First the suffering, then the sacrifice. The time jump, rumored to be coming at some point in this 12-hour season, finally arrives just before the end of the hour, and it’s effective, if for no other reason than, for once, we’re able to see characters after having a few hours to process the events of a finale. LAD doesn’t go easy on us; there’s little uplift or hope in President Heller’s final words, unless you count the fact that, thanks to Alzheimer’s, he knows he will soon forget this terrible day. For now, though, he knows both that his daughter has died, and that soon so will his memory of her.

Audrey is a love from Jack’s past, but the season has returned time and again to his longest, most important relationship in the series–his friendship with Chloe. They’ve worked together, taken turns saving each other, but more than that they share the bond of comrades who, given the life they’ve chosen, can never expect any kind of normalcy. He tells her that she’s his “best friend”; earlier she tells him that she’s “the only friend you have left.” And even if those lines are straight out of the action-movie phrasebook, they’re moving nonetheless: each of them is the only one who has any idea what it’s like to be the other.

I wouldn’t say that LAD was a classic of modern TV; over its dozen hours, it indulged in plenty of the plot zig-zagging that 24 wore out during its regular-series run. But emotionally? As Jack gave himself up once again, boarding that helicopter to Russia, I had to admit: damned if Bauer hadn’t pulled it off once again.

In the episode’s final moments, Jack’s captor said that he won’t like it in Moscow and I have no doubt that’s true. But I hope he stays a while anyway. Taking some time off now and then seems to do him good.

TIME Televison

The Leftovers Spins the Wheel of Fortune

Paul Schiraldi/HBO

A confounding but compelling episode feels like an "Are you in or out?" moment for the show. I'm in.

“Two Boats and a Helicopter” is the episode of The Leftovers that convinced me I was sticking with the show for the season.

This is not the same as saying that I left it convinced that The Leftovers is a great show, or that it will become one. It’s still tremendously confusing. It’s mysterious, and not necessarily to a purpose–we’ll have to see. And this episode was structurally very different from the first two, suggesting that The Leftovers is still figuring out what it’s going to be. What it’s going to be may, I realize, turn out to be a fancy pile of nothing.

But this tense, wrenching episode felt like an “Are you in or out?” juncture for The Leftovers, and I’m in. In part, it was a function of story; in radically shifting its approach and concentrating on one character, Christopher Eccleston’s Rev. Matt Jamison, the show had a drive that felt missing from the beautiful but diffuse first two episodes. The mood and sense of aching were still there, and how, but “Two Boats” also gave us one character with a specific problem, and even in a show like this, that makes a difference.

I know we’re all tired of the Lost comparisons at this point, but I can’t help it with “Two Boats,” which echoed the structure of producer Damon Lindelof’s earlier series–specifically Lost‘s flashbacks, with their reversals, cruel dramatic ironies, and hints of larger forces at work. It’s also remarkably directed for tension–see, for instance, the final roulette spin in the casino, where we hear the ball land but don’t see it, instead seeing Matt’s face tense up, then finally break into the release of a smile. But The Leftovers is distinctively its own thing: its characters are torn not between faith and science but between purpose and despair.

Rev. Matt is a man of God who has suffered loss almost Biblically: he was spared death as a child, we learn, only to lose his parents in a fire, to all-but-lose his wife (Janel Moloney) to a car accident caused by the Departure, and to lose most of his flock to the aftermath of Oct. 14 and its crisis of belief. Eccleston’s stressed-out performance here is commanding top to bottom. Every blow in Matt’s life has hammered a spring within him tighter; if you put a mood ring on him, it would probably explode.

The way Matt has reacted is not exactly likeable; his campaign to prove that bad people were among the departed may be his idea of defending his religion (this wasn’t the Rapture, so God’s plan continues unchanged), but it’s also pretty spiteful and face-punchable. But at least he hasn’t given up, and a lovely little sequence in mid-episode shows all the little things that not giving up means: changing light bulbs and hymnal numbers alone, sweeping, scrubbing rugs. It’s a complicated thing he’s doing, both self-interested and genuinely–if misguidedly–idealistic. It’s hard to tell where his work to keep God’s place in people’s hearts ends and his struggle to maintain his own place in the community begins.

“Two Boats” is an episode full of what seem to be signs and portents–the red lights, the pigeons–but unlike in a Lost flashback, it doesn’t necessary to some larger grand design. Like Hurley, Rev. Matt wins big and loses disastrously, but it’s not clear there is really any mystic power like The Numbers at work here. Instead, his story may simply be like the Departure itself–a dramatic, inexplicable stroke, but a random one with no discernable purpose. On the one hand, there has been an amazing, superhuman event; on the other hand, there is no particular sign that it happened because of anything we recognize as God. This may simply be life: unimaginably wonderful things happen, and unimaginably terrible things happen, and the only patterns to be found in it are the ones we impose on them after the fact. If Twin Peaks told us that the owls are not what they seem, this episode suggests that maybe a pigeon is just a pigeon.

There’s a lot to think about here, but what puzzles me most about “Two Boats and a Helicopter” is what’s meant by the title. It’s taken from an old story about a man who’s stranded by a flood and refuses help, from one vehicle after another, saying that he instead will wait for God to provide–until he drowns. When he gets to Heaven, God tells the man that He did provide–He sent two boats and a helicopter, didn’t He?

So what were the two boats and a helicopter here? Matt, after all, does not spend the episode placidly waiting around for divine intervention–no one, by boat or helicopter, offers to save his church, so he desperately tries to do it himself, and nearly does. How does the parable apply, then? Maybe–and maybe I’m being morbid here–losing the church was itself the two-boats-and-a-helicopter. Maybe the universe is offering Matt an out: a chance to let go his crusade, get his life together and care for his wife, pocket his winnings and let the Guilty Remnant take the punches.

Maybe, but–call it foolishness or heroism, vanity or selflessness–he’d rather do anything than let go of his one way of making meaning from what’s happened. The Leftovers has shown us several ways people deal with a world-changing event: violence, hedonism, insanity. Matt’s way is to accept his losing cause and stick with it, no matter what color the wheel lands on. “I had to try,” as he tells the young man who came to church for a baptism but admits that he won’t be coming back. “If I don’t, who will?”

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