Monday, June 30, 2008

Adieu, Trix! Auf Wiedersehn, Flix!

All hail the victors! On the surface, one could say that a 1-0 win meant that Spain somehow left it close against Germany, but that would have meant that you weren't watching the game. Germany never really looked dangerous. At all. Surprise, surprise. Turkey -- with three starters back from suspensions -- would have been a better test for Spain.

I heard talk at a party last night that the final wasn't all that exciting -- especially since American TV viewers were treated to a 4-1 comprehensive thrashing of David Beckham's L.A. Galaxy by D.C. United (my home side) as an appetizer.

I could see how someone who hasn't been wrapped up in Euro 2008 would say that. But part of the beauty of obsessively following a tournament is that even a less-than-spine tingling finale blossoms when you've invested so much time. Knowing that Spain was going to test goal-scoring defender Phillip Lahm (and watching them do so with such vigor that he was subbed out at halftime). Watching the amazing Torres show in the first half after bashing him the whole tournament. (Some players just step it up on the biggest stages.) And the sheer perverse delight that I took (shared by my pal Hussein, at whose place we watched the game) in German coach Joachim "Jogi" Löw's increasingly desperate substitutions. (Mario Gomes?)

So as international soccer's most metrosexual coach tries to figure out what went wrong yesterday, and as German goalie Jens Lehmann bashes the ref, I conclude my Euro 2008 blogging with a fond look back at the good, the bad and the ugly.

File under Good:

Finding a public domain photo of Ataturk as a janissary.

Weaving Robert Musil and the Kaisergruft into a blog post on Austria's ouster from the tourney.

Spain banishes the curse of the yellow jersey.

File under Bad:

My predictions. Ugh.

The utter collapse of the Czechs against Turkey.

File Under Ugly:

The ugly Croatian traveling party at the quarterfinal.

The Trix and Flix video. (Scroll to the bottom.)

When I last glimpsed Euro 2008 mascots Trix and Flix yesterday, they were waving tiny Spanish flags and hanging with the victorious team. What happens to them now? Where do they go? Can they stay in Vienna and somehow be used in the Parallel Campaign? Or will they head to the Holländische Meierei at Spiegelgasse 1 in Zurich to found a new artistic (dis)order?

Wonderful mascot image by Flickr user JBalázS, used under a Creative Commons license.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Status Quo Ante (Pavelić)

As we wind down the Euro 2008 coverage here at Balkans via Bohemia, we must take note of the completely insufficient €12,500 fine levied against Croatia's supporters for disgraceful behavior during the team's loss to Turkey in the quarterfinals.

According to UEFA, a group of Croatian fans displayed a racist banner and chanted racist slogans during the match. Some Croatian fans already have a rep for doing this sort of repulsive thing on their soccer travels through Europe. Toss in the fact that a suspected war criminal from the Ustasa state, Milivoj Asner, who was stripped of Austrian citizenship but ducked extradition for trial on "health grounds" was photographed cavorting with Croatian fans during the tournament, and you've got some really ugly stuff.

It's not just Croatia, however. This sort of nonsense -- or, for instance, monkey chants directed at players (I'm looking at you, Crna Gora!) -- is only going to stop when the penalties are severe enough. FIFA and UEFA need to punish such behavior by assessing point deductions in qualifying for countries whose fans can't keep the fascism and racism out. Nations that harbor repeat offenders should be chucked out of the qualification process. I'd love to see Lichtenstein play San Marino if I don't have to see swastikas.

And oh, yeah, can someone tell Swiss television officials that when they play the German national anthem before a game, try using the modern words and not Deutschland über alles?

Photo of Adolf Hitler meeting Croatian Ustasa leader Ante Pavelić used under a GNU Free Documentation License Credit: USHMM (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum), courtesy of Muzej Revolucije Narodnosti Jugoslavije

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Turks Fall Before the Gates of Vienna

Well, despite the power outages and my much-delayed viewing of the match, a game but massively depleted Turkey squad was bested in the last minute of the match by an underwhelming German squad.

Even UEFA's account of the match -- which ended 3-2 -- acknowledged the injustice: "Cruel end for Terim's Miracle men."

It was thrilling watching Semih Senturk equalize in the 86th minute -- and put the Germans on the ropes. But a brilliant goal by German defender Phillip Lahm -- who was victimized on the second Turkish goal -- was the difference. (And did anyone notice that he was sent into the clear when Kazim Kazim fell down with an injury? No explanations of what his injury was in any news story thus far.)

On the lighter side: American viewers got to hear ESPN analyst Tommy Smyth call German Chancellor Angela Merkel "Helmut Kohl." (And The Guardian takes a dim view of Merkel's sudden love of Fußball: "Angela Merkel: Football groupie or opportunist?")

And any game involving Turkey allows us to once again use this photo of Ataturk, dressed as a janissary.

(Un) Mellow Yellow for Spain

File this in the "Only in Euro 2008" file. Did you know that the Spanish national soccer team -- and, in particular, its coach Luis Aragones -- have a bizarre superstition about the color yellow? And that tomorrow in Vienna -- as Spain takes on Russia in a semifinal -- that the Spanish national team will be wearing: Yellow Jerseys.

A Reuters story that I found on ESPN has all the details, including the fact that Señor Aragones "refused yellow flowers" when his team arrived in Dortmund for 2006 World Cup. (The team colors of Borussia Dortmund are the same black and yellow that you see on the strange smiley face ball depicted here.)

Aragones also threw a fit in 2006 when Spanish striker Raul dared to wear a yellow shirt to practice.

And let's not forget to blame the theatre! The story ends with this truly bizarre cross-cultural explanation of the superstition -- a French playwright's death:

The traditional Spanish superstition surrounding the colour is thought to have arisen because French playwright Moliere was said to have worn yellow when he collapsed on stage performing Le Malade Imaginaire in 1673. He later died at his home.

And yes, please ignore the fact that the jerseys are really sorta gold.

Yellow Smiley Face Super Ball by Flickr user L. Marie used under a Creative Commons License.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

DJ Dolores: Fractured Beats of Brazil

All hail the glories of eMusic -- and a bunch of tracks to burn. A few weeks ago I was browsing around the international section and happened on a new record by Recife-based artist DJ Dolores (Helder Aragão) called 1 Real (Crammed/Ziriguiboom / A-Train).

A couple samples and I simply downloaded the whole thing. Color me impressed. It's a sensational record that grounds the dub and breakbeats of contemporary electronica in a exquisite array of folk music from Brazil's northeast region. The eMusic reviewer (Phillip Sherburne) compared 1 Real to the first Latin Playboys record, but to my ears it's a much less languid and more forward-looking record than the Playboys' decidedly retro sound. DJ Dolores' musics has got all the strangeness, panache and sweet lyricism of the best 3 Mustaphas 3 records, even as it draws on musical wellsprings half a world away from Szegerely -- that world-famous Balkan metropolis that resists location on something as reductive as a map. It's also got the gritty sonic textures favored by M.I.A. -- lots of influences rub up against each other, throw off sparks and even collide. It's a sound that lets you know that you're nowhere near Rio or São Paulo.

Check out DJ Dolores' MySpace page for a quick sampling of tunes: On "Tocanda O Terror," snatches of a language instruction tape kick off a song where rippling African-influenced guitar spins out over an insistent Latin beat. On "JPS," DJ Dolores squeezes chanson, rap, pop and turbo-charged forró into a telephone booth -- and out leaps a super song that namechecks Jean-Paul Sartre.

1 Real is one of the best records I've heard this year. And it's got me digging merrily into his first two records: 2002's Contraditório and 2005's Aparelhagem. And apparently Mr. Aragão is a Renaissance man: he recently started a fashion label to accompany the music.

Listen to more of 1 Real and buy it at eMusic.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Janissary Alert: Turkey Triumphs

First, apologies for the service interruption on Euro 2008 blogging. Anything interesting happen?

Mrs. Quinn-Byrne and I were on a lil' 3rd anniversary road trip to see this place. (It was simply stunning.) And eat at this place. (Menu here: We had fried oysters, beet salad, fennel rubbed lamb, ribeye in citrus dark stout reduction - !!! - and devoured blueberry citrus torte and peach crisp.) And stay at this place. (Very nice; but no TV and no soccer.)

My good friend Hussein did text me throughout the Hrvatska/Turkey game as we advanced on Charlottesville -- followed by a phone call after the Checkerboard Crusaders completely choked on penalties. (Quote: "Richard, I'm watching Croats weep hysterically as we speak.") Hussein also let me know that Russia demolished the Netherlands. Thanks, pal. I hope to return the favor soon when you're out of TV range!

I did get home in time to watch Italy's classically cynical performance against Spain, which got them to the desired penalties -- and then a quintessential penalty choke. (Note to Spanish coach Luis Aragones: Bench sulky Torres if you want to beat Russia!)

Anyway, the blogging about Euro 2008 will continue here at Balkans via Bohemia despite the eviction of Croatia (sorry, Vuksha) because of the Ottoman Empire's outsized influence in the Balkans.

Best quote on the Turkey/Croatia match goes to Croatia's coach Slaven Bilic. It's a quote that should bolster us through any of life's vicissitudes, including allowing an equalizing goal on the last kick of extra time:

"Tomorrow is a new day, the sun will still rise. We'll probably cry for a few days but such is life. Things like this have happened before but these are extreme situations. My players have a strong character and will be back even stronger."

Photo: Turkey's founder Ataturk dressed as a janissary.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

One (Romania) down, one (Croatia) to go

So apparently Romania's national team did not show up today. (I did not witness the game due to, um, having a job.) The reviews from two friends who did see the match, however, were withering.

Perhaps they could have used their nation's greatest ever player..... midfielder Gheorghe Hagi. Hell, he's only 42 years old. (Just like me!)

And not that Romania's apparently putrid performance deserves it, but let's roll out a couple Hagi highlights, eh?

A terrific goal against Switzerland in World Cup '94.

This lunatic goal in the same World Cup against Columbia

And this truly insane compilation (with soundtrack by Snoop Dogg) of Hagi goals combating Roberto Baggio goals in a weirdly compelling video showdown.

Yes, I've heard the complaints about all the soccer blogging, but with only one team left (Hrvatska) in this blog's target demo, it could all end very soon. (I'm looking at you, Vuksha!)

Photo of Hagi by Flickr user Co5T1N under a Creative Commons license.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Kakania Kollapse

Well, that was uneventful. Except for a superlative free kick from Michael Ballack, the game between Austria and Germany featured only one noteworthy event: The sending off of both team coaches in the 41st minute for what our US TV announcers said was "constant bickering."

I hesitate to bring it up again, but the whole damn game might as well have been played in the Kaisergruft rather than in Ernst Happel Stadion. (Paging Joseph Roth! Paging Robert Musil!)

What would Ullrich have made of this game? "Ullrich was a man forced somehow to live against himself, though outwardly he appeared to be indulging his inclinations without restraint."

The official account from UEFA on the ejections of the coaches was even more impenetrable than Musil's prose in translation. And we must bemoan the fact that Ivica Vastic was left on the bench. Warum?

Both hosts out. The Czechs out. Balkans via Bohemia must root for the only two remaining teams from its titular regions to advance: Romania and Croatia.

What's left in qualifying explained very clearly here.

Trix and Flix are sad tonight. They demand to be adopted by Christian Ronaldo.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Česká Republika and Euro 2008: Notes on a Collapse

OK... the post-game quotes from the Czechs' collapse are in.

Predictably, goalkeeper Petr Čech is taking a great deal of responsibility on himself -- but not without a healthy dose of self-pity:

That game really sums up my season, especially after losing out on three trophies for Chelsea [FC] in the final games. We came so close but blew it in the end.

Captain Tomáš Ujfaluši also had some thoughts:

It's awful but we must deal with it and accept that Turkey beat us.

And retiring coach Karel Brückner weighs in:

The key is not to surrender to the pressure – and we did. It will take me a long, long time to get over this disappointment.

Talking with a friend an hour or so after the game (Quote: "I waited a decent interval before I called you."), we agreed on the deserved nature of the result. We also agreed that the Czechs really felt the loss of Marek Matějovský -- the Czech midfielder whom the Turks had a hard time dealing with during his 39 minutes before being stretchered off.

The question now is how does Czech soccer regroup? They'll get back Arsenal midfielder Tomáš Rosický, but what's left in the tank on defense and in the striker corps? And who will coach?

Photo of Czech soccer jerseys in a store at Můstek by Flickr user sambeckwith used under Creative Commons license.

Love Psychedelico: Happy and Hooky

A month or so ago, a publicist tracked me down through some of my music writing on the web and asked me if I wanted to hear a record by a Japanese duo called Love Psychedelico. I said sure.

This weekend, I finally got a chance to listen to the band's first US release: This is Love Psychedelico. Singer Kumi and guitarist Naoki have been big in Japan for the better part of the decade, and their first American release is a compilation of tracks from the band's first four records -- The Greatest Hits (2001), Love Psychedelic Orchestra (2002), Love Psychedelico III (2004) and Golden Grapefruit (2007) -- and I was very pleasantly surprised with the record.

The surprise is mostly a function of subverted expectation. The band is being sold as a sort of "peace and love" classic rock band, and that's not completely off-base. But Love Psychedelico updates that vibe very smartly; they're a lot less retro than the name and PR would have you believe. This is no jam band. Think Arthur Lee's Love as a good reference point for some of the music, with a lighter and more ebullient tonal palette. (Check out "Everybody Needs Somebody," one of the three songs streaming on the band's MySpace page.)

Plus, the songs are just bursting with sharp poppy hooks that really do stick in the brain as they ride to your ears on very mellow tempos. "Your Song"(another one of three songs streaming on the band's page) is a really good example of that -- a soft rocking groove with just enough intensity to be convincing. And there's a hint of Lyndsey Buckingham's nervy pop inventiveness in songs like "Unchained."

There are lots of influences crammed into Love Psychedelico's sound -- but they manage to mash them up so thoroughly that you really never can pigeonhole them. A really terrific summer record. Call it California via Tokyo

Buy This is Love Psychedelico (Hacktone Records) at Amazon.

Istan-Bull at Euro 2008!

No champagne and prostitutes tonight in Geneva. Just Milan Baroš picking up a needless yellow card from the sidelines.

Yes, there's lots of blame to go around as the Czech Republic's national soccer team goes from advancing to a very winnable quarterfinal game against surprising Croatia to going straight back to Ruzyně airport. In the space of oh, say, 3 rainy minutes or so.

All credit to Turkey, who battled all the way back from a 2-0 deficit in the last 15 minutes to steal the victory and turn my predictions of the Czechs winning the whole tournament into a foolishly optimistic shambles.

I'll probably blog some of the absurd post-game reactions later. But for now, need I mention that when I look at Trix and Flix now, it seems that they are laughing at me? Mockingly.

Istanbul photo by Flickr user oberazzi used under a Creative Commons license.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Kakania Konquers!

They left it verrrrrrrry late, but Österreich stole a goal late against Poland to stay alive in the Euro 2008 tournament with a 1-1 draw.

Naysayers, however, could argue that the Austrians took their multiple first-half chances with the liveliness of some of the funeral monuments in the Kaisergruft. (Paging Joseph Roth!) But a penalty in the 92nd minute offered the promise of salvation.

Kakania's own Roger Milla -- 38-year old Ivica Vastic (left) -- took as authoritative a penalty as one could take in front of a packed stadium in Wien. So Austria lives for another day! Sunday, that is. Against Germany. When they will seek another Cordoba!

And, oh, yeah, Vastic gets a lifetime supply of free beer for scoring the goal. Wunderbar!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Getting Ready for Czech Republic vs. Portugal

OK.... It's hard not to get psyched for the Czech Republic/Portugal match today. Both teams won their first games in Euro 2008 in less-than-convincing fashion -- and need to impress us. And there's a bit of history here as well dating back to 1996, when the Czechs gave Portugal and its fans some serious heartbreak as the Czechs made their way to the final -- and some heartbreak of their own -- against Germany.

The goal that broke Portugal's back in the quarterfinal on June 23, 1996 at Villa Park in Birmingham was this audacious lob from Karel Poborsky -- shown at right in an ad from French star Thierry Henry's 2005 anti-racism campaign. (And, yes, this video also replays that other great Czech lob in soccer history -- Antonin Panenka's penalty in the 1976 final in Belgrade -- discussed in detail here and here.)

Poborsky's classic goal was recently voted the "Best Solo Strike" in European Championship history in an online poll at UEFA's website. It is pretty freaking amazing.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Euro 2008: First Six Games

Three of the four groups have played now, and there has only been one surprise in the final scoreline: Holland's 3-0 demolition of Italy yesterday. (Alas, work prevented me from seeing either that game or Romania/France, which ended 0-0.)

But if there haven't been scoreline surprises, I do have to say that both of the host nations have played with much more verve than expected. The Swiss nearly snuck a point away from the Czechs (my pick to win it all) -- including a heartstopping smash against the woodwork. Austria looked very good against the Croats, especially in a tension-packed second half where the Kakania Krew poured the pressure on bedraggled Hrvatska. (The Guardian's David Pleat has an excellent tactical breakdown of how Austria almost stole the game here.) And Portugal left it late to finally put away Turkey, which didn't quite look like it belonged in the tourney. (Raise your hand if you find Pepe annoying!)

In the ho-hum category? Germany dismantles Poland. (As usual.) And even more ho-hum, German and Polish fans clash in the street -- triggering hundreds of arrests. Why can't they play as nice as the Euro mascots Trix and Flix (above), kicking it around in an idyllic and thoroughly psychedelic Alpine landscape?

More disturbing than that photo? The Trix and Flix Euro 2008 theme song video, featuring the vocal stylings of Shaggy.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Mr. Amadeus Strikes Again....

I'm certain that the only reason that I beat Mr. East Ethnia to posting this link to certified Serbian musical genius Rambo Amadeus' new video (Don Kihot i Sancho Pansa) is that I received a MySpace alert last night that pointed me to it. The advantages of friending.

And while you're checking out Rambo's madcap take on Cervantes (including some menacing windmills), this one remains my favorite Amadeus video of all time.

Official site (in Serbian) here.

Friday, June 6, 2008

On Board the Waco Express...

Everybody's on the bandwagon again
Get on board the Waco Express again
-- "Waco Express," The Waco Brothers

So I got outta the house on Thursday night to catch some live music -- Chicago's fabulous Waco Brothers (left) -- at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel in DC. Doesn't happen nearly as often as it used to in the life of this writer -- but anything less than five nights a week in a dank club listening to loud music and chasing beers with shots of Jägermeister would represent a dip from mid-1990s alcohol consumption and hangover production levels at Byrne, Inc.

So seeing the Wacos the other night was a bit of a trip in the wayback machine. I was around the periphery of the band from very near their beginning in the mid-1990s, when Bloodshot Records was in its toddler stages and
Mekons ringleader Jon Langford created the Wacos as a alt-country side project with low expectations for anything but fun and a wee bit of PR for the Bloodshot gang's attempt to be the flagship of the roots country/anti-Nashville insurgency of that era.

Langford had already been messing with country music in the past as a Mekon (see the brilliant mid-80s records
Fear and Whiskey, The Edge of the World and Honky Tonkin') and with the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, so it wasn't unfamiliar territory. The problem was, however, that the Langford and some of the folks he recruited for the project -- Dean Schlabowske from Wreck, Tracy Dear -- started writing original songs that were better than 98% of what the alt-country movement was churning out. Add in a superstar rhythm section of Steve Goulding (Mekons) and Alan Doughty (Jesus Jones) and round it all off with pedal steel player Mark Durante, and you had a veritable supergroup. The first two records -- 1995's To the Last Dead Cowboy and 1997's Cowboy in Flames -- are classics of the genre, and the studio records they've made since usually contain at least a few terrific songs.

But live shows are the Wacos' raison d'etre, and their current tour is in support of a new live record -- Waco Express: Live and Kicking at Schuba's -- which does capture the ferocity and fun of the group.

Thursday night's show did not disappoint, despite a shaky start as Schlabowske's mic kicked in and out on the opening song. By the fourth song, the Wacos hit a groove that didn't let up until the end of the night, dealing out covers (George Jones' "Girl at the End of the Bar" and "White Lightning"), originals (stinging versions of "Red Brick Wall" from Waco World and Tracy Dear's ode to a life of sin, "Take Me to the Fires") and some hilarious stage patter, including a Langford disquisition on the possibilities of a terrific but unnamed new president in the Oval Office that led to the following exchange:

Dean Schlabowske: Ron Paul?
Jon Langford: Yeah. Ron Paul George and Ringo.

Downloads, purchasing opportunities and other cool stuff can be found at the Wacos' page on the Bloodshot site. Their work is also available at e-music.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Quick predictions for Euro 2008

So. I did my Euro 20028 brackets and came up with some surprises.

Group A: 1. Czech Republic 2. Portugal

Group B: 1. Croatia 2. Germany

Group C: 1. Romania 2. Holland

Group D: 1. Spain 2. Sweden

Yep, there's a clear Eastern/Central Europe bias here. I think Turkey narrowly misses out in Group A and France narrowly loses out in Group B. I think the loss of defender Fabio Cannavaro is a big blow to Italy, and lets a slightly more high-powered Dutch offense squeeze through.

Let's play this out 'til the end.

Quarterfinals: Czech Republic over Germany; Portugal over Croatia; Romania over Sweden; Holland over Spain.

Portugal plays its one great game of the tourney to beat Croatia. Holland is this year's block to Spanish ambitions in the Euro.

Semifinals: Czech Republic over Portugal; Romania over Holland

Don't think the Portugal can take a more balanced Czech team. Romania is the 2008 version of Greece, and Mutu is a firm favorite for the golden boot.

Final: Romania's magic runs out in a virtual home match for the Czechs in Vienna. Czech Republic.

What do you think? Comments are open!

Wonderful mascot image by Flickr user JBalázS, used under a Creative Commons license.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Euro 2008: Poetry, Pain and Panenka

It's only 4 days away. The start of the 2008 European Championships. Sure, sure the World Cup's played on a bigger stage. (And according to the countdown on FIFA's web page as I type this, it's only 737 days, 19 hours 20 minutes and 00 seconds away.) And the African Cup of Nations and Copa America provide more free flowing football and ill-tempered hijinks and agony. (Yes, that last link is Argentina's Martin Palermo missing 3 penalties against Columbia in Copa America 1999. An unforgettable game I watched live in Sarajevo at 3 in the morning.)

But for my money, the European Championship is the best concentrated soccer tournament on the planet. Sixteen top-flight teams in four groups. (OK, 14. We're not counting co-hosts Austria or Switzerland, who did not have to qualify. And we're definitely not counting Scotland, Ireland, Serbia, Ukraine or Ing-er-lunt -- 'cause they dinna make it!) Three games in eight days for each team in the first round. No room for error. It may not be free-flowing football, but it really is gut-wrenching stuff. And of course the European Championship saw the best penalty shot ever: Czechoslovak Antonin Panenka in the 1976 final in Belgrade against West Germany. (Those seeking context can read this terrific article on Panenka at Czech Radio's English site.)

I'll have some predictions before the tourney starts up on Saturday. But let's start with a quick look at some of the must see games in the opening round. In the US, the games are on ESPN 2 or ESPN Classic:

* Monday June 9: A doubleheader from the "Group of Death": Romania v. France (12 pm EDT), followed by Holland v. Italy (2:45 pm)

* Wednesday June 11: Czech Republic v. Portugal (noon) could be one of the best games of the tournament. Both teams like to attack. The winner of this game will likely win the group that includes Switzerland and Turkey.

* Thursday June 12: Croatia v. Germany (noon). There'll be no "Danke Deutschland" sung in Klagenfurt, unless German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann muffs an easy save.

* Saturday June 14: Sweden v. Spain at 12 pm. The Swedes are the sort of canny team that Spain always seems to choke against.

*Tuesday June 17: The last day in the "Group of Death," and -- as with all final opening round games -- the kickoffs are simultaneous at 2: 45 EDT: Romania clashes with Holland and France steps up to Italy in a rematch of the World Cup final that saw this lovely moment.

The Tudors: "I Shall Rule England!"

So tonight the final episode of the second season of The Tudors was broadcast here in the US. America can lay its heavy royalist burden down. The series really is like watching a freaking Renaissance carriage wreck: As awful as it is, you just can't turn away. The writing is dreadful. The acting as hammy as a Virginia cured. And the facts, such as they are, are warped to sex up plot lines without establishing any coherent historical point of view. But the payoff comes in the moments of impish delight amidst the wreckage: See Archbishop Cranmer's German wife clamber into her box! Gay dancing masters, miserably failed assassins and the nutty Spanish ambassador! And Nick Dunning's diabolical Thomas Boleyn, who finds (as Ice T would find 400 years later) that pimpin' ain't easy.

I'm convinced that Jonathan Rhys Meyers is destroying his career with the lead role. (Is this the same actor that stole scenes in Velvet Goldmine away from Ewen MacGregor and Christian Bale? Can one really play Henry VIII as a cross between Elvis and Gordon Gekko? Apparently so.) And Natalie Dormer plays Anne Boleyn as if the ambitious lady-in-waiting had The Rules, The Book of Martyrs and The Devil Wore Prada all stitched up in one volume in the same leather binding. (The exclusive video with Dormer strolling through the Tower with the "historian" for the series that's up on the web site's chat page now is absolutely hilarious.) And then there's Peter O'Toole!

Truth be told, Mrs. Quinn-Byrne and I have been watching episodes a week early via our On Demand network, and we caught the final episode last Sunday night. The wine we'd been drinking at a dinner with friends helped us through (SPOILER!) the execution of Anne Boleyn, though I did annoy my spouse with shrill cries of "I shall rule England!" every time the toddler Elizabeth appeared onscreen.

At last -- with a few delays as we waited for the French executioner -- it was all over for Dormer and for us. Where can The Tudors go from here? Will it go on? (In a word, yes.) Will Meyers put on weight for season three? A fat suit at least? And bereft of Deadwood, The Wire and even Californication, how shall we waste our Sunday nights without this rutting rotten royalty?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Tricky's back....

Some of those people have to live that life, for real I don't have to, I got a record deal
Tricky "For Real"

One of the best advance CDs I ever got in the mail came to me in 1993. It was a compact disc with a copy of "Aftermath," the first single by Tricky -- who at that time was featured performer with Massive Attack. It was so amazing that I played it over and put it on a dozen or more mixtapes for friends. It had that moody Bristol groove that both MA and Portishead exploited, but it was more jagged and adventurous.

It was almost two years before his finished debut -- Maxinquaye -- was released. I'd venture that it's my favorite record of the 1990s, and along with PJ Harvey's Dry, the best debut record of that decade. Since then, I've been interested in just about everything that Tricky has done -- through the highlights (Juxtapose and its brilliant lead single, "For Real," Nearly God, Pre-Millennium Tension) and lowlights (the last two records, Blowback and Vulnerable).

So it's with great anticipation that news of a new Tricky project has arrived, with a web site: Knowle West Boy. It's out in early July in Europe, but those of us in the US need to wait until September. The first single, "Council Estate," is a gritty percussive track that shows off what Tricky does best -- melting down and reshaping genres from grime, punk and trip-hop into something utterly compelling. (And can you find the Portishead sample?)

You can see "Council Estate" and stream selected tracks from Knowle West Boy at album's website. (Mix heads can also download the makings of their own remixes of "Council Estate.") You can also catch two recent live performances that Tricky did on Jools Holland's BBC series at the site. By all appearances it's a startling return to form after a couple of uneven records. As the single says: This boy's remembered he's a superstar.