February 25, 2016

Vinyl is a Valentine to 70s New York- and the music subcultures that still define it, at least in our imaginations. Embracing the mess over the muse, the period over the particular and emotional extremes over heartfelt persuasion, creators Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger- whose own work defined that era, wear coke-tinted glasses to spawn a series that comes on like a skaggy sequel to Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous. The excess of success has bloated out the passion for music which has resulted in a top heavy industry that needs to be ripped up and rebooted.

A squall of substance abuse, colorful, lapelled shirts and epoch enriching anthems, it parallels the Cinderella story of a drug dealing assistant, (played brilliantly by Juno Temple), with that of Richie Finestra (Bobby Canavale) a record company boss on the verge of signing the deal of a life time.

The exceptional feature-length pilot jumps back and forth through time and genre, charting the rise of American Century Records, from the teeny popper blues that dominated the early days of rock n roll, through to Disco, punk and Donny Osmond, with a body count of broken souls along the way.

There’s murder most foul, music as bad, and a city that’s sclerotic from crime, corruption and recession. The airwaves are contaminated by Payola, the label by artistic dead-weight, and the mountains of green that roll in are constantly tipped with ‘snow’.

But beyond the gaze of the coked-up record men, the vibrant pulse of the city threatens to rupture a creative embolism. Dive bars erupt in sweat and acerbic affectations. Young black kids sidle and sweat on street corners as socially aroused disco becomes socially enraged hip-hop.

And Richie can sense it all, youth quaking far beneath his ivory tower. At first consumed by the nitty-gritty of a corporate merger with Polydor -and the day to day crisis that keep him from his wife and kid (putting him directly in the way of the substances he’s sworn off), eventually you-and he, realise that the sackcloth and ashes routine digs deeper, connecting with a loss of purpose, of identity and of self-respect.

One night, believing he’s lost it all, it’s not a DJ, but a band that saves his life. The New York Dolls literally bring the roof down over his head and rip him out of his ennui, as they tear into an energetic rendition of their signature hit- and this shows signature theme, ‘Personality Crisis’.

Canavale’s revolutionary performance is the slick baseline upon which the series hangs. A mixture of dopey charm and frayed patience he loops from scene to scene, chewing the scenery but providing a performance of such thrust it gives the others something to riff off.

Though few actors who weren’t cast by their father put a foot wrong (Mick Jagger’s son plays a punk rocker), Ray Romano deserves kudos for his subtle, unrecognisable turn as Zak Yankovich, Richie’s confidant and head of promotions. Olivia Wilde brings a soulful side that I’ve never seen in her movie work as a former Warhol Factory Girl whose also Richie’s wife. While Ato Essandoh- the first act he signed and whose life Ritchie ruined, is truly mesmerizing.

What’s most apparent about Vinyl is that Scorsese has rediscovered his creative energy. While it has much in common with his greatest work, this is no distant echo, but a solid reverb which will shudder out of your tellybox and entertain on its own merit. It’s not a collection of familiar boxes, stylishly tick, but something that’s clearly a passion for its creator, even if it is a bacchanalian soap that gloats in its tropes


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