sat 20/07/2019

Vinyl, Sky Atlantic | reviews, news & interviews

Vinyl, Sky Atlantic

Vinyl, Sky Atlantic

Scorsese and Jagger's series is prone to warping, skipping and scratches

'Hello, we're the Seventies'

You can almost hear the words ringing out in the dramatic pauses. “We should call it Vinyl. Like, y’know... when you could hold music in your hand... touch it... FEEL it. When it was really WORTH something. The Seventies – that was when music had real value, when you had an album and it was like a book – something to treasure...” I’m not sure whether it would have been Martin Scorsese or Mick Jagger who said it, but at some point during the supposed 20-year genesis of this New York-based music biz drama, one of them did. Definitely.

Vinyl, however, as the show’s near two-hour pilot ably demonstrated, has a few intrinsic problems. Firstly, it’s prone to warping. For a show set in a near reality, this is an issue – most glaringly with characterisation and particularly when dealing with real-life characters who, it seems, have to be writ large. By which, I mean impersonated, and mainly by a very bad cartoon. Zebedee Row’s Robert Plant was a particular case in point, but it’s a trait that doesn’t get better as the series progresses. Ian Hart, channeling the spirit of the bullish Peter Grant hit the mark, but often it felt like wandering through an irredeemable parade of grotesques.

Often it felt like Scorsese was paying homage to himself, a dangerous game

There were exceptions: Ray Romano’s Zak Yankovic managed to offset his innate unlikeability with the sort of offhand charm that engaged and involved, while Olivia Wilde brought layers upon layers to her role as the former Warhol model and current wife of record company founder and voice of the show, Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale). Cannavale’s performance, key to so much of the show’s interest, was pulled off rather well, like Mark Ruffalo doing a passable Pacino impression. His air of pained vulnerability was a nice counterpoint to the crashing arsehole he was required to be by his job.

Vinyl is also prone to skips. The needle suddenly skates forward leaving the listener confused and unsatisfied. There were so many instances where I simply thought, “hang on a minute...” Are we really supposed to believe that this record company exec is so visionary that he can recognise both the nascent, reductive magic of the New York Dolls and the appeal of Kool Herc cutting up breaks at a block party? In 1973? If that’s the case, then why in the name of Melle Mel is the label in such big trouble? The man’s clearly some kind of musical Nostradamus. Either that, or someone’s very keen to show us all how much they know about music.

And then there are the scratches. The bits where the needle gets caught in a rut and you hear the same snatch of music again and again. Drug-taking, long tracking shots through corridors, sudden explosions of violence and a body in the trunk of a car. Often it felt like Scorsese was paying homage to himself, a dangerous game when you’re already treading a very fine line between “HBO drama” and “ill-advised vanity project”. There were so many archetypes, I wondered whether he and writer Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire) were playing trope-a-dope, tricking us into complacency before throwing the killer punch... the put-upon female trying to make it in a man’s world, the bullish, flawed but ultimately decent hero trying to cope with the pressures of a fast-moving and faster-changing world... But no. It was basically Mad Men with Goodfellas production, but not as satisfying as either.

This all makes it sound like I liked Vinyl a lot less than I did. There are some fine performances, the lighting, photography and colour palette are breathtakingly good and I’m engaged enough in the characters (or at least those whose names I can remember – there’s a lot of them) to want to find out what happens next. It’s just that, like buying records, Vinyl seems to require a fetishistic love of the format to really make the effort.

 

MORE MARTIN SCORSESE ON THEARTSDESK

Robert De Niro in Taxi DriverTaxi Driver (1976). Talking to me? Scorsese's classic starring Robert De Niro (pictured) is restored and re-released on its 35th anniversary

Shutter Island (2010). Not a blinder: Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese's feverish paranoid thriller

Hugo (2011). Scorsese does a Spielberg in sumptuous look at the origins of cinema

George Harrison - Living in the Material World (2011). Martin Scorsese's epic documentary of the Quiet One

The Wolf of Wall Street (2014). Con brio: Scorsese and DiCaprio tell of the rise and fall of a broker

Arena: The 50 Year Argument (2014). A warmly engaging film about the 'New York Review of Books' might have been more than a birthday love-in

Silence (2016). Scorsese's latest is a mammoth, more ponderous than profound

'Vinyl' is basically 'Mad Men' with 'Goodfellas' production, but not as satisfying as either

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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