"Blue" by Pat Grant (Top Shelf Productions)
Probably no one reading this could tell you what it was like to be a goof-off surfer kid in ‘90s Australia, skipping school and creeping through the planned coastal community. But that's pretty much why Australian cartoonist Pat Grant made this graphic novel. He's well aware of the obscurity of his biography in the experience of the wider reading world, and he's ready to impart that experience for all of us.
"Blue" follows a trio as they skip school in order to hit the waves, but they find themselves tempted by rumors of gruesome remains of a dead body on the train track. They don't run right out there to see the thing, though -- they meander, they quibble, they curse, they cause harmless trouble, they act like kids who have broken the leash.
But there's a provincialism endemic in small-town life, which often rears its ugly head in everyday rhetoric as racism, and such is the case here. Not overt racism, but the first pings of fear when difference makes itself apparent.
In this case, it's the slow but steady integration of weird, blue blobbish people from the sea who are washed ashore in odd little homemade boats and stand out from the bland whiteness of the typical dullness. They are not the center of an invasion story, but the edges of a feeling that pervades "Blue," the notion that something is changing, that the reasons the town was manufactured in the first place are rapidly dissipating.
It's a surreal and sometimes silly stage, but Grant's power at taking this cartoon version of his own hometown and expressing the isolation that is part of his heritage is powerful and appropriately unsettling. What could have been a toss-off tale about three kids goofing around in a beach town in Australia becomes something much, much more. It's an attempt to focus on the beginning of something in the haze of childhood, haunting and a bit confused, an experience we all face in our efforts to compile our own histories.
-- John Seven
Public Image Limited -- "This is PiL" (Cargo Records)
A title adjustment is needed here because this one only rings about two-thirds accurate for me. The other third can be had by simply adding "in 2012." OK, This is PiL ... in 2012. Much better.
And I like PiL 2012. They're certainly better than the dreadful dance/Britpop incarnation of the band that reigned from ‘84 to ‘92, when PiL formerly went on hiatus.
But my status as a rabid fan of PiL's first three records, particularly 1979's "Metal Box," compels me to begin this re view like so -- and on the other hand, continue by being something of an apologist for this middle-of-the-road offering.
John Lydon, leader of PiL and of Sex Pistols fame, was instrumental in shaping a revolution and my favorite-ever movement in music. He has zilch to prove and for many reasons feels unassailable. It's the same genius deal that allowed Lou Reed to get off re leasing "Metal Machine Mu sic" and that recent record he did with Metallica -- presumably titled something other than "Hilarious," which is what I called it.
I'm glad just to have Lydon still on the scene, making music that sounds so distinctly PiL -- PiL 2012, of course -- and the truth of the matter is if this record was markedly bad, I'd find it within me to administer some extremely tough love. But it's not.
"This is PiL" refreshingly trends back to the bass-led sound of "Metal Box" -- which famously borrowed from dub-reggae -- while benefitting tremendously from a score of meandering salty guitar riffs from Lu Edmonds. Through it all Lydon wails over the top in that odd Middle Eastern-style he's developed over the years, and the group manages to score a couple solid singles in "Human" and "Reggie Song." Even the club-oriented "Lolli pop Opera" -- the most out-of-left-field-sounding thing on here -- is fun despite seeming an obvious play to the brain-dead, ecstasy-and-bass scene currently popular in London. It's saved by the live drums and a free associative turn from Lydon.
Maybe predictably coming from the 56-year-old Lyndon, lyrical content is more personal than ever on "This is PiL." Childhood, self-doubt, disillusionment, relationship to country, politics and more come into play -- but rather blandly. It's disappointing, coming from someone with such a knack for lyrics on records past, but who's spoken of himself so infrequently. Another flaw is the length of some songs, which carry on repetitiously to their detriment. On "Metal Box," songs tended to drone because the band was exploring sonic space, studio-improvising with subtle shifts in chords and pacing. More traditionally structured tracks make such a technique pointless.
Now and since the mid-1980s, the disappearance of experimentation that really made this band exceptional kills me. But being that I didn't expect PiL to reinvigorate their earlier fearlessness here, the record bested my expectations and will find its way back onto my player. Hopefully, PiL's re newed exposure will prompt others to take an interest in their remarkable career.
-- Phil Demers