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Glam-rock Sunglasses

Photo by Nitin Vadukul

Six reasons the new Missy Elliott record, The Cookbook, is my favorite-ever Missy record:

1. It’s yummy, and soft. It’s got curves instead of sharp edges. Missy’s not a robot this time and she’s not doing rave drugs or acting like Busta Rhymes. Nothing wrong with robots or Busta Rhymes, of course. Robots rule. But look — it’s high summer. It’s the time of the season. It’s love time. It’s hot-kitchen time, it’s sleep-naked time. So this time she’s not a robot, B-boy, alien or anything arty/high-concept. She’s a Southern woman, sorta damp from the Virginia summer and high on that stuff your body makes when you see your lover standing in the kitchen doorway. Dopamine?

2. Track to track, The Cookbook’s quality is stable. In comparison to all her other albums, the lows are not as low; the highs are not quite as teeteringly high. The payoff is that it’s her first record you can play from start to finish instead of fast-forwarding through lots of filler. And, please note: Missy produced the most obvious radio hit, “Lose Control,” by herself.

3. The Cookbook is the first Missy record you don’t need a good stereo to enjoy. It sounds great on a cruddy boom box. This is kind to broke people, and by laying off the ProTools/overproduction stuff, Missy shows real faith in the old-fashioned fundamentals of hip-hop: writing, delivery, spirit, simple samples. Plus, without all that extra crap, you know, she’s naked — which is okay, because her rapping has never been so masterful.

4. She’s got a sample of Sugarhill Gang’s “Apache,” which (in any version) is the garlic of breakbeats — it goes with just about everything and makes it all taste more alive.

5. For the first time, Missy’s dirty talk is romantic-like, in-wuv. Sounds like she has a real serious boyfriend. Missy talking about giving head to a guy she wants to marry (“Meltdown”) is a beautiful thing, and totally different from most of the damaged sex shit on hip-hop radio.

6. It also sounds like Missy’s been hanging out a lot with Mary J. Blige’s (and Angie Stone’s) discography. She’s singing for real — and singing “issue songs” à la Mary J. “Remember When” is a thoughtful confessional about female infidelity that turns the table on Usher’s “Confessions.” (Mary J. also appears on the very-Mary “My Struggles.”)

I have not even mentioned the appearance of Fantasia (“My Man”) because, as much as I worship Fantasia, this particular song — like most everything she’s sung post-Idol — doesn’t do justice to her strangeness.

The Cookbook, however, does do justice to Missy’s strangeness, woman-ness, man-ness, lovesexiness.


 I am a half-retarded naif.
Photo by Anton Corbijn.

Way less jazzed on the pseudo–Kurt Cobain movie, Last Days. Ugggh. But let’s focus on the positive first: It’s stylish as hell. It’s got that kind of aesthetic stickiness that keeps it in your brain for days. And it’s bold.

Unfortunately, it’s boldly annoying — and as awkward, self-indulgent, tedious and pretentious as ’90s indie rock at its worst. (And it’s got a cameo from Kim Gordon, who acts as well as she sings.) I already lived through the often harrowing boredom of indie rock the first time — I don’t need to experience it again in the form of an imploding film riding on the pain of someone I care about. It doesn’t even really get the glasses right: They should be glammier, more ridiculous, Jackie O. They should be funny. This film, in spirit, embodies the opposite of what made Nirvana great: They were a pop band, in the guise of indie rock. They wrote pop hits. They were funny.

So why aren’t there more great rock & roll films? Why don’t most filmmakers get rock? Is it that subtle?

Perhaps it’s that most rock-filmmakers are only making films because they can’t rock. (Obviously, you’d have to exclude both the creators of This Is Spinal Tap and The Rutles from this, as these two films — the greatest mockumentaries of all time — were created with the kind of loving insight only actual musicians could deliver.)

If only Gus Van Sant had watched Spinal Tap and The Rutles over and over before starting Last Days. And maybe Hard Day’s Night, just for kicks. And Head, to be safe. I think Kurt would appreciate being brutally, incisively satirized — probably more than being weirdly hagiographed into some half-retarded naif.

Speaking of rockfilms: The American Cinematheque is wrapping up a series of music movies this week, saving the most random for last: a screening at the Aero in Santa Monica of the ’70s glam opera The Phantom of the Paradise, with a post-screening discussion with its star and composer, the great Paul Williams. Curiously, Williams began writing songs as a depressed, unemployed actor. Thank goodness he failed the first time around in film, or we’d never have “The Rainbow Connection,” “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Just an Old-Fashioned Love Song” and Bugsy Malone’s “Good Guys” — whose coda is forever burned in my brain like ’70s childhood Scripture, the Gospel according to Paul Williams.

You give a little love and it all comes back to you/ You know you’re gonna be remembered for the things that you say and do.

La da da da-da-da-da!

Now that guy had some glasses.