sábado, julio 24, 2010

Harry Nilsson - "Aerial Ballet" (1968)

All hail Uncle Sam. When a Nilsson-obsessed John Lennon called him on the phone to express his admiration, inadvertently identifying him as the man himself (hardly the kind of call a former bank employee could expect), Nilsson quickly repplied by tagging himself as Uncle Sam and, quite possibly, hanging up. By the time Paul McCartney reached him, or he saw the Beatles name-drop him on TV as their favorite American musician, Harry Nilsson must have realized he truly was the most-famous-band-in-the-planet’s favorite act, which potentially put him on the verge of global stardom. Of course, today we know such breakthrough didn’t happen that way; but still, in a year so generous for nostalgia and star-studded tribute albums (Shel Silverstein, Burt Bacharach, Graham Nash, etc.), Harry Nilsson remains conspicuously absent. Such oblivion is indeed strange, given his Tarantino-Scorsese approved pop-culture stature, safe from boomer-commoditization, or his epochal but bright baroque pop, the finest example of which is found on Aerial Ballet (1968). Almost five years from his last indie-rock appearance (via The Walkmen’s 2006 track-by-track appraisal of Nilsson’s Pussy Cats), time seems right for an early-career Harry Nilsson revival –for his 70s material hatches in your nearest oldies station.

Overlooking how he became their protégé-cum-drinking-buddy, or Lennon’s kindred spirit of sorts, Harry Nilsson was known as the American Beatle for a good reason: his songs from the 1967-1968 period. Perfectly baroque, psychedelic-music-hall pop tunes laden with a melodic gist which made the Beatles obsession a two-way affair, those songs encapsulated eccentric narrative chops and moving hooks unlike anything within the bubble-gum spectrum. Think of an Emmitt Rhodes fronted Monkees, add Serge Gainsbourg’s iconoclast infantilism and the self-aware skill for sarcasm that would later become Nilsson’s trademark –which was anything but embryonic on Aerial Ballet, his second proper album (with 1966’s Spotlight on Nilsson being more of a haphazard singles collection)– and you’ll get a glimpse of the fascinating glee found on this album, capable of reaping the perfectly sown seeds of 1967’s Pandemonium Shadow Show.

Scraping the circus show gimmickry of his debut, Nilsson kickstarts the album with the playful tunes of “Daddy’s song”, contradictorily wrapping bleak, heavy on daddy-issues lyrics (a signature of Nilsson at the time), with the sounds of an extravagant Broadway pastiche as it could only be found in the Summer of Love aftermath. The same musical traces are found on other songs of the album like “Bath” o “Good Old Desk” –an still unresolved metaphor on divinity or a love song for a trusty piece of furniture–, in a testimonial to Nilsson’s Brill Building-bred skills. But Nilsson excelled in contemporary pop as well, and “Don’t leave me” proofs it by posing as the best Paul McCartney song Macca didn’t write, outdoing Paul Simon’s simile-sppouting ways to express the sadness and longing of a character immersed in an, otherwise pretty ordinary love song; a transcendental capability of Nilsson that the Bacharachian “Together” and “The wailing willow” proof all too well.

Narratively speaking, Nilsson’s prowess lies on the way he was able to imbue his songs with a piercing loneliness, a deep sense of dissatisfaction and regret channeled through the sweetest of pop melodies, something found a-plenty on Aerial Ballet. This we can attest on “Mr. Richland’s Favorite Song”, a Scott Walker-esque study of the performer as a tragically public character, or the suicide-note-according-to-Randy-Newman which “I said goodbye to me” is; but also on “Mr. Tinker”, Nilsson’s take on “Eleanor Rigby”, a Revolver link that becomes evident on “One”, an incredible elementary ballad on collapsing relationships that is made a-new, propelled and spurred by a terrifyingly sparse instrumentation and Nilsson’s spooky croon. The peak of this modus operandi comes with the Fred Neil penned “Everybody’s Talkin’”, a beautiful pop song shrouding the permanent schizophrenia of having to trade the errant freedom of happiness pursuit with the losses it always implies, all accentuated by an equally emotional, as-still-as-a-river-can-be arrangement.

With Aerial Ballet far from being a hit, it would take Midnight Cowboy’s soundtrack rediscovery of “Everybody’s Talkin’” to put Nilsson finally on the spotlight. By that time he had already abandoned baroque pop and was on the way to becoming the yin to Warren Zevon’s yang, (in the way Leonard Bernstein was von Karajan’s yin, if such snobbery allowed). Nevertheless, equal amounts of self-sabotage and bad luck would prop the ever-ready-to-do-his-talent-an-alcoholic-disservice Nilsson in a freefall that seemed to have him delighted. But using pranks and Jekyllesque antics to vent out inner ghosts was a Nilsson signature move from the start. It might be true that 1971 Nilsson Schmilsson, and not this, is what he will be remembered for, but Aerial Ballet is the summation of his first years of activity, the result of his formative run with George Tipton and Phil Spector, working as an anonymous songwriter, the full realization of the gleaming, ambitious yet humane pop he pursued through those years. Time would make Nilssson’s lyrics more convolutedly quirky, dirtier and extravagant, as his sound would also move toward a rock-faceted, simpler pop (fortunately as free of the vacuity of arena-rockers as his baroque sobriety was from the rococo madness of the hippie era), but not a bit of his capacity to share his intimate joy, to present his stark sadness as sardonic, playful melodies, would be lost. “He is the something else the Beatles are” said a hyperbolic Derek Taylor in his liner notes for Aerial Ballet; in the time when the wild mercury sound Bob Dylan envisioned himself as a trapeze artist, I’m pretty sure Nilsson would have been pleased to be remembered as a highwire ballerina. And that’s precisely this album’s testament.

2 comentarios:

pharmacy dijo...

Excelente post! Sigue adelante!

Buy domain India dijo...

What a wonderful art? I like it very much. Keep it up.