Sunday, October 07, 2012

Breaking Bad

On this weekend’s Saturday Night Live, there was a very familiar moment in a late-episode sketch. Fred Armisen was playing the obnoxious, elitist, outrĂ© girlfriend of Daniel Craig’s character in a sketch. Late in the sketch, Armisen broke character and had to fight hard to keep from laughing—and as he did, rapidly the other actors fell victim to the same affliction.

The phenomenon of breaking character to laugh (or “corpsing” as one article tells me it is known in the biz) is hardly new of course—poor Rachel Dratch fell victim to its snares in those Debbie Downer sketches, and current critical and audience favorite Bill Hader consistently breaks up during the Weekend Update “Stefan” segments. And Jimmy Fallon became infamous for the inability to stay in character for any sketch ever.

So—here’s my idea for a year-long research project I would totally undertake if someone would pay me to do it instead of my job: A statistical analysis of every SNL player and their “corpsing rate.” I’m very curious as to who was the least likely in the show’s cast to break – who did it the least, who the most. You could also envision a whole host of factors to account for in the research:

·         Degree of difficulty—is the situation such that you would have been impressed for the actor not to break? Or is it surprising that they did?

·         Friendly fire—is the breaking a chain reaction thing? Do you count it less against an actor if they are the third in the train to break?

·         Prep time—it’s commonly assumed and I believe somewhat validated that Hader is reading at least some of the Stefon stuff cold on air. Surely he should be dinged less than an actor who had the script early in the week?

·         How bad do they break? A smirk? A guffaw? A twinge?

Any guesses as to who would come out on top?

If any media outlet wants to fund this research write to me at with serious offers only please.
Dratch breaks in a Debbie Downer sketch:


Poor Hader at the mercy of the writers:

Until Whenever



Tuesday, October 02, 2012

U2 Ranked - #154 - #150

And we continue our march up the U2 ladder.
#154 – “Love Comes Tumbling”
A B-side off of The Unforgettable Fire, this track features some nice bass work from Adam, in the form of some unusually-for-him prominent almost bass-slaps. And the opening riff has an agreeably moody quality to it. But Bono’s sort-of mumbled lyrics never really go anywhere, and the track itself just kind of meanders aimlessly before sputtering to a close. This, like many U2 B-sides, sounds like something played with in the studio but never really developed into a “song,” per se.”

U2’s relationship to traditional song-craft and songwriting is something I expect to explore a lot here over the course of this project, so for now let me just note that U2’s music doesn’t hold up to the kind of translation a really well-crafted piece of songwriting can and usually does. This is why great U2 covers are few and far between. U2’s music, when written down as sheet music, is simple and almost sketchy. It’s only in the unique chemistry they bring to a song, as well as the unique way the Edge’s guitar approach expands what are simple soundscapes from a chord progression standpoint, that even many of their great songs come to life. More on that as we go.

 #153 – “With a Shout” – October
October has some great moments, but it is by a pretty decisive margin U2’s weakest album. It suffers from some typical sophomore effort issues, with a band reaching for places they don’t yet have the skills to reach. This song, a pretty nice driving bass line from Adam notwithstanding, is pretty undistinguished, and the tortured way Bono tried to force the line “Jerusalem” into a melody it simply does not fit doesn’t help matters. Add on top a pretty silly bridge featuring a spare horn that may have wandered in from another studio, and you have a filler track that does just that—fills the space, and not much more.

#152 – “Your Blue Room” – Original Soundtracks
So we come to our first Passengers track. At this point, I need to pause for a moment and talk about how I decided to treat the Passengers stuff. Passengers is a “band” that is really just U2 with longtime producer Brian Eno playing as a full team member, not just a producer. Their sole album was released after Pop, during U2’s most experimental phase, and many of the songs are very Eno-influenced soundscapes. I did not include those in this list of U2 songs. A few – this being one – are more traditional songs, and one – the grandly beautiful “Miss Sarajevo” even became a live staple and classic U2 tune.

So – “Your Blue Room.” With Bono really speaking more than speaking the verses, and singing the chorus in his “fat lady” falsetto, this is still an odd duck as a song. The background synths are fun, and the track has a nice ambling beat, but it’s too mellow by half, and the vaguely churchy organ never really coalesces into anything heartfelt. Some nice pieces here that don’t really gel.


#151 – “The Ocean” – Boy
Remember what I said when discussing “4th of July” about U2’s lack of facility with instrumentals? While “The Ocean” is not an instrumental, it’s pretty close, with a very mellow, very slow and moody guitar figure and drum beat interrupted by a very brief lyric whisper-sung by Bono. When I first got into Boy as a youth I loved this track, but now I find its oh-so-mellow attitude almost off-putting, and its brevity evidence, not of a smart decision to be brief, but as evidence of an idea that went nowhere.


#150 – “Numb” – Zooropa
Every once and a while, the Edge gets to take center stage. He’s sung lead on a few songs over the years, with this Zooropa track the most recent example. However, unlike those earlier attempts (on “Seconds” he sounds a lot like Bono), here there’s no mistaking whose at the mic. The experimental song, which is grounded by a sliding up-sliding down distorted guitar line, is a mumbled/rapped litany of exhortations (“Don't grab/Don't clutch/Don't hope for too much/Don't breathe/Don't achieve). Over this, yes, numbing refrain Bono lets loose some more “fat lady” falsetto, while a drum machine keeps the beat. It’s an interesting experiment to be fair, but one of those “interesting” experiments that you listen to a few times and then never really want to revisit.


Until Whenever