CD: Temple Beautiful by Chuck Prophet – Post-punk rocker Prophet delivered one of the better sets of politically-infused songs in recent years with ¡Let Freedom Ring! in 2009. His latest is a loving salute to the city where he resides, San Francisco, that serves as a fine example of musical album as cultural history. It works so well for the same reasons that ¡Let Freedom Ring! did as politicized music by concentrating on creating strong songs that serve the music rather than any message.

Hence such elemental experiences of recent San Francisco history as its seminal punk rock scene and centrality in the modern gay experience – including allusions to AIDS and the murders of Harvey Milk and George Moscone – are mists that waft through some of the songs only hinting at a greater context. As the best album about a place and its time since Lou Reed’s 1989 stunner New York, Temple Beautiful can be heard as a collection of fine songwriting recorded within a stylistically broad consciousness as it can also be heard as a tribute to a city prophet.

His often-droll delivery at times also recalls Reed, but even more so echoes the vocal timbre as well as the writing and musical diversity of Ray Davies of The Kinks, whose 1968 album The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society is another landmark of rock album as cultural history.

There’s a level of musical and lyrical intelligence, quality, depth and appeal here that adds to a legacy that Prophet has created that marks him – even if he is merely a peripheral presence on the pop music scene at large – as one of the finer and most reliable rock music artistes of our day.

One prime factor in investing his work with its distinctive merit and power is how he never lets any message and associations overtake the prime directive of effective artistry: serve the song and music first and foremost. Hence Temple Beautiful is an engaging listening experience that evokes rich and real emotions that apply to both its subtly stated theme and context as well as just life itself in these modern times, making it a perhaps only minor masterpiece, but one that will seem more of a benchmark work as it endures over time.

TV: House of Lies – This original series from Showtime adds yet another offering that finds the premium cable channel giving HBO a run for its money in offering creative, unique and entertaining high-quality television.

It’s a cynical show about high-priced corporate consultants that makes that business look like little more than a sham perpetrated by clever hucksters.

It’s a potential tour de force for the talents of Don Cheadle, who plays the lead dog in a team that manages by hook, crook, sleight of hand and sometimes-downright perfidy to get companies to hire them for big bucks to advise them on their business and operations. What could be more right on time for the Occupy era than a series that takes a dim mocking view of modern big business? As both an assessment of its tone as well as how well “House of Lies” fulfills it considerable dramatic and comedic promise, the series feels terribly adolescent in its first season.

Renewed for a second run soon after its debut, it may well grow into a show with the weight of Mad Men as a look at humans in the workplace pursuing commerce. But even at first blush, it’s at the very least an engaging experiment that rarely has a dull moment.

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2012


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