’24 Hour Party People’ was very interesting. Actually, watching it had a bizarre effect on me. It was such a strange mix of drama, comedy and nostalgia that it made me feel quite queasy. It was odd to see Steve Coogan, very much in his Alan Partridge [UK spoof chat show comedy series] persona. Also entertaining was the crowd. I didn’t realize this was opening night for the movie in New York. So all kinds of hipster types were there (some wearing New Order T-shirts – I wonder where that shirt I had with the ‘&’ on it is!) and the theater was packed out.

On a completely different note, I watched the show ‘American Idol’ last night, in which young people compete for the chance to be a manufactured pop star. I actually watched pretty much the whole show, mainly because they had brought in Burt Bacharach to practice with the five finalists, and each of them had to perform one of his songs.

The first girl chose ‘Walk on by’, an obvious choice, but actually my favorite song by him as well. She was technically excellent, but I found the performance quite tasteless. Why do people feel like they have to add all kinds of souley woooahs and oohaas! You can express soul and emotion within a great tune like that without resorting to tasteless tactics. The next guy chose the theme from ‘Arthur’. Dreadful song. He was a bit of a flat performer anyway, but I was never going to like anyone doing that song. Next up a girl sang ‘A house is not a home’, which I think is a great song. She definitely had something – a great presence and an incredibly strong voice. But unfortunately she came from the Whitney Houston school of singing, in which you have to wag your jaw and improvise tastelessly. She had been doing well, but she lost me there. Let’s face it, I’m pretty hard to please when it comes to Bacharach, schooled as I am on the classic 60s versions (Della Reese is my favorite version of ‘A house…’ for the record). Next up came a charismatic Art Garfunkel lookalike, singing ‘The Look of Love’. I had high hopes for him, but I think it’s a really hard song to sing well. It didn’t help that each performer had to sing silly 1 and a half-minute abridged versions of the songs. Finally came a girl singing ‘Always something there to remind me’. She was ballsy, and the arrangement was much better than most of the other ones had been (although it did sound strangely like ‘Tainted Love’ in the middle). Unfortunately, for all her pluck, she must have been nervous, and was unable to be perfectly in tune. She was still my favorite though.

After each performance, the judges came right out and told each person what they thought. They were very, very mean to the second and fifth contestants, and were all over the third (they even compared her to Celine Dion and Whitney Houston – wow, what a compliment!). Interesting to watch the program, even though I wasn’t that impressed.

Merit Hemmingson: 'Trollskog' (CD; EMI Svenska; 1972)
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This album is rather unlike most in my collection. I know very little about it, and bought the CD because I was ordering CDs from a Swedish store anyway, and had heard a vague recommendation somewhere. The price was about $6, so I figured it was worth a try. I'm glad that I bothered.

The album is long, with 20 tracks. The footnote to its title states that it is 'Swedish folk music with a beat'. To my non-Swedish ears, some are considerably more accessible to others. I recommended 'Mandom Mod Och Morske Män, ' a catchy blaxploitation-meets-church organ fusion, over at musical taste. Nevertheless, there are many beautiful things hiding in this album.

A couple more tracks follow the beat-oriented tone of the first track, adding some nice wordless vocals: 'Brudmarsch Efter Lisme Per' and 'Oxdansen'.

Also accessible to me are the slow, melancholy jazzy instrumentals with guitar and organ. The feel of these, while understated and slightly prog-rock sounding, reminds me of the airy soundscapes of Gainsbourg's 'Melody Nelson' album. 'Jag Ser Uppå Dina Ögon', 'Leksands Brudmarsch' and 'Så Ödsligt Molnen På' are good examples of tracks in this style.

The album is also notable for its excellent use of vocals. 'Fäbodpsalm Av Oskar Lindberg' reminds me of the Beach Boys singing 'Our prayer,' while 'Brudmarsch Efter Florsen I Burs' sounds like a slightly less jazzy and more folky reworking of the kind of sound Piero Umiliani achieved on the 'Sweden, heaven or hell' soundtrack.

There are also several overtly folk tracks, often featuring prominent violins, vocals and harpsichord, such as 'Lill-Pelle Kúut Fort!', 'Fyllepolska Från Jät', 'Engelbrekt Och Hans Dalkarlar', and 'Eklundaposka'. In fact, much of the last quarter of the album is in this style, and the final track ends with the sound of the wind.

In all, it's a very interesting record, and I wonder how well known it is outside of Sweden. I love the semi-classical undertone in several of the tracks, and the way they run together and continue into each other.

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