Monday, June 30, 2008

Why Is It So Hard?

Firstborn (1984, Michael Apted) & It's My Life (1984, Talk Talk)

As with many of my favorite bands, my introduction to their music was through a film.  In the case of Talk Talk, the film was Michael Apted's Firstborn, released in 1984.  The film is a coming-of-age drama starring Teri Garr, Peter Weller, Christopher Collet (pronounced the French way), Corey Haim, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Robert Downey Jr.  Of course, everyone went onto to further prominence except for nominal star, Collet, who seemingly disappeared after his starring role in 1986's The Manhattan Project.  

In his brief career, Collet accomplished the rare feat of appearing as the love interest of two future Sex and the City stars (Parker in Firstborn and Cynthia Nixon in The Manhattan Project).  In the film, Garr plays the single mother of two teenaged boys (Collet and Haim) who comes under the spell of new beau Weller who, it turns out, deals drugs out of her home and is physically abusive to elder son Collet.  

Up until the action/thriller-oriented climax, Firstborn is a nicely observed suburban drama with some genuine moments between Garr, Collet and Haim, as well as Collet and Parker (when she was still a brunette).  Briton Apted shows a good eye for the details of American suburbia, in this case, New Jersey and New York, which are well showcased.  All of the performances are quite good and it is Collet who anchors it all so it's a mystery as to why his career tailed off so dramatically.

The soundtrack features a good score by the underrated Michael Small, which is very much tied to the era it was produced in (i.e. lots of synths).  Amidst several oldies and some current tunes by lesser-known acts, Apted presciently used Talk Talk's recent hit "It's My Life" and enlisted the band to record a new song for the film, "Why Is It So Hard?"  

The latter song fits very much in the mold of the band's 1984 LP, It's My Life, but for some time it was only available on the soundtrack. It has since appeared on a few Talk Talk compilations.  Over the course of their career, Talk Talk would morph from a New Romantic outfit derisively labeled a Duran Duran clone (they would tour with Duran Duran in 1982) to post-rock pioneers with their last two albums, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock. Founded by Mark Hollis, Paul Webb, Lee Harris, and Simon Brenner, Talk Talk truly sounded like a completely different band from their beginnings in the early 1980s to their finish about a decade later.  

It's My Life is the band's last album to prominently feature synths, but where the first album, The Party's Over, is truly a synthpop album of the Duran Duran variety, It's My Life features much more complicated arrangements and thematic material (via the collaboration of unofficial member and keyboardist Tim Friese-Greene).  Highlights include the title track, "Such a Shame" (based upon cult novel The Diceman), "Renee," "It's You," "Tomorrow Started," "Call in the Night Boy," and the Beach Boys-inspired "Does Caroline Know?" Although the band would garner further acclaim for their subsequent albums, I still find this, frankly, transitionary album to be a benchmark in the synthpop canon.  While not as artistic or radical as the final two albums, It's My Life is masterful on its own terms.

Hollis has retired from the music scene.  Webb and Harris still collaborate together, and Webb worked with Portishead chanteuse Beth Gibbons as "Rustin Man" on the album Out of Season.  Gwen Stefani and No Doubt got a lot of mileage out of their 2003 cover of "It's My Life."  Collet remains M.I.A. and Paramount has yet to release Firstborn on DVD.  Legend are you listening?

No comments: