Wednesday, October 31, 2007

So this is goodbye

My last Stylus essay. It's been a great three + years. Although I was a published music critic already, Stylus legitimized what had essentially been a side project. All the cool obits and letters I've gotten in the last few days were unexpected and gratifying. Thanks

Just for old time's sake, my first Stylus review.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"A tropical entropy seemed to prevail," Joan Didion wrote in Miami, "defeating grand schemes even as they were realized." All the butt-shaking and arm-waving obviated any sense that entropy prevailed at the M.I.A. show at Studio A last night, but it made me re-examine my own M.I.A. problem. I overheard this exchange a few minutes before she went on stage:

She: [M.I.A.]'s so good.

He: I like the CD you made me.

She: She sounds so Indian. Like, exotic.

Now, until last night's show, I had no idea who bought her albums beside rockcrits and readers of their prose. Which isn't entirely fair: I've students who went to her show in early 2006. But it was a coterie, and (teen) musical coteries store facts like granaries store wheat, without digesting them. Thanks to a grainy pre-concert film showing an authoritarian Ceylonian head of state and a Soviet kepis that M.I.A. sported (crowning a baggy gold sequined blouse thing that Phyllis Diller would have loved), the coterie had some inkling that her music was "political" even if its content was lost on them. On me too. Anthony articulated some of my discomforts a couple of months ago, predictably more sophisticated than protests from Ethan Padgetts of rockcrit. She gets too much credit for statements that wither when listened to as manifestos; her many good songs, as he rightly put it, "revole around not just facile slogans but facile questions."All I could glean from "Boyz" and "Sunshowers" is what I've enjoyed from noted theorist Prince Rogers Nelson: there's fucked-up shit in this world, so let's dance and fuck. While I'm not accusing her of cynically exploiting her background to add a patina of social relevance to those shape-shifting beats, she gets toomuch credit for them; or, rather, the beats are ever so much weirder than her lyrics.

I live in Miami. M.I.A. could have been Gloria Estefan, "Sunshowers" and "Boyz" could have been "Get On Your Feet" and "Rhythm is Gonna Get You" -- songs by another dark-skinned exotic who gets points for being friskier than what was on most of the audience's iPod's. Since she (and us) was having such a great time I don't begrudge her reluctance to turn into Linton Kwesi Johnson, but there's a reason why "Paper Planes," live and on record, remains her most conflicted statement and most striking musical moment -- she hints that she isn't the only one up for indictment.

Monday, October 29, 2007

RIP, part two

Simon Reynolds has the best short obit (dovetailing with a run of less than cheerful dispatches on the state of music and music writing, a subject my final essay will also address), specifically addressing Stylus' relation to Pitchfork:
And for purely selfish readerly reasons I’ll miss Stylus's off-kilter approach, which I’ve often fancied sorta made it vis-a-vis Pitchfork what the [late Eighties] Melody Maker was to the [late Eighties} NME. Except that’s quite unfair to Pitchfork which is way better than NME was then... but the analogy nonetheless has something to it: P-fork as the Accepted Authority, saddled with a certain responsibility, and Stylus thereby freed up to be the younger brother/maverick/underdog.

Stylus RIP

As the world of rockcrit knows by now, Stylus will cease publication this week. I have a lot of thoughts I haven't sorted yet which I may post as inspiration comes, but my unfinished valediction to be published on Thursday is an attempt.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Milquetoast on hambone

Since I don't suck on Hollywood hambone too often, I looked forward to watching Mr. Brooks. Not a good idea when the writer/directors wrote Stand By Me and Kevin Costner plays a mild-mannered serial killer, but whatever. William Hurt! Kevin Costner playing a mild-mannered serial killer! Did I say William Hurt?

Alas, Mr. Brooks is about 80 minutes too long. It equates funereal pacing with Serious Drama. It's got Costner discussing abortion with a teenage daughter who's probably his girlfriend. Faithfully adhering to Hollywood serial killer movie rules, there's a scene in which Costner burns his clothes and a few incriminating possessions of his victim's while crouching in the nude (we get no scenes, alas, of Costner sticking his dick between his thighs and penciling eyeliner to the accompaniment of Colin Newman). Demi Moore's in here too, playing, you guessed it, the determined cop out to get Mr. Brooks, grinding her teeth so fiercely that bicuspid ash oozed from her jaws. Fortunately Lindsay Crouse is on hand, as a crypto-dike police captain who's minutes from turning into Laurie Metcalf-playing-Joan Crawford. The biggest disappointment is Hurt, relegated to glowering in the shadows and committed to playing this shit role like it's Iago; he does experiment with an cackle he stole from Dr. Evil, though. Once again the filmmakers missed an opportunity in not switching the roles: how much more delicious would this film be if William Hurt, as the serial killer, took advice from alter ego Kevin Costner, especially if Costner is still allowed to act this milquetoasty?

If you happen to catch Mr. Brooks on cable, make sure you make it through the first thirty minutes. Costner utters a line of dialogue destined for the annals of camp. To serial killer apprentice (don't ask) Dane Cook: "I feel I must warn you -- if it turns out you enjoy killing, it can be very addictive. It can ruin your life."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Let's hope I never have to write about Madonna again. This is as personal as I get.

A reminder that old habits don't die hard -- they rot and occlude serious thought from intelligent people. This morning a colleague sniffed that Madonna was more credible as a marketing force than an artist; she "didn't write her own songs."

Monday, October 22, 2007

Good Neil Young albums begin with throwaway openings that are nevertheless lots of fun; you could fill a dandy quarter of a CD-R with Sleeps With Angels' "My Heart," Comes a Time's "Goin' Home," Time Fades Away's title track, and a handful of others. Chrome Dreams II's "Beautiful Bluebird" isn't one of them -- it's a reminder that, when he wants to, Young can still be mawkish in a melodious way. Don't laugh: it's some kind of achievement after good will and healthy sales. The proletariat concept album, Bush-bashing album, and Jonathan Demme-enshrined country-rock record are the kinds of modest achievement we expect from veterans who still read The New York Times and haven't forgotten how to plug their electric guitars into amps; Prairie Wind even became his first new album in more than a decade to be certified gold. I don't own a one, and I'm not too ashamed to confess that I've lost the tracks I've preserved after a hard drive meltdown a few months ago. I haven't paid much attention to him since "I'm The Ocean" proved too sloppy for Pearl Jam in 1995 (to their credit, they've absorbed its lessons, to commercial shortfall).

Chrome Dreams II's backstory is more interesting than the album itself, but its slapdash nature is good for Young; it reminds us that lots of his great albums, particularly Rust Never Sleeps and Freedom were cobbled together, indifferent to abstractions, "concepts," or any notions of gestalt that Young's concentration couldn't focus on. Its ramshackle charm feels earned. "The Believer" tunefully rewrites After the Goldrush's "I Believe In You" (and alludes to it in the chorus call-and-response vocals) for post-fiftysomethings. "Dirty Old Man" takes the "Piece of Crap" riff around town, gives it a Jagermeister shot, and forces it to drive home. It's a stupid song, but for Young "stupid" allows him to record essentialist statements beyond his self-important peers (Dylan, with all his newfound senescent grace, seems incapable of it).

Of course "Ordinary People" will get all the attention. After years of spotty bootleg appearances, it sprawls for nearly twenty minutes on an album incapable of supporting the song's conceptual ambitions. Despite visible signs of age (note the hearty "Lee Iaccoca people!" Neil shouts, a reminder that maybe he thumbed through Talking Straight in 1986 while admiring Ronald Reagan's Miss Liberty tribute on TV) it makes its pretensions pay off. Or stupidity -- Neil's ideas about "the people" might as well come from the lyrics to "Hands Across America," oblivious to Joseph Cotten's contemptuous dismissal in Citizen Kane. How reassuring that he's not settling for mere iconicity. Who cares that we're not sure how many new songs he's written for this album -- that he's still possessed by the spirit of "T-Bone" and "Welfare Mothers" at 93 or however old he is is a boon in this climate of Starbucks-ified boomer-rock.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Couldn't have said it better...

I like Kevin John Bozelka a lot. The best bit of (seemingly) tossed-off criticism this week.
I always thought "I Want It That Way" was a fine piece of product. But it wasn't until Joe Gross in the 1999 Pazz issue compared it to Gertrude Stein's Stanzas in Meditation that I realized it was no piece of product at all. Or rather, it was the ultimate proof that the pop assembly line could produce poetry of an almost disquieting singularity. The well-trained sincerity (NOT an oxymoron) of the voices; the sturdy, non-distracting backing track; the overall arc from quiet to quiet; the "ain't nothing" hooks which are really cascades of question marks - all are designed to streamline what is at heart a mystery so that "I Want It That Way" means exactly what you (or I) think it does. It's like DeBarge made solid

Couldn't Hae

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Current listening

CRS (Lupe Fiasco, Kanye West, Pharell) - "Us Placers"
Keyshia Cole - "Got To Get My Heart Back"
Radiohead - "All I Want"
Robert Wyatt - Comicopera
Annie Lennox - "Little Bird" (12" remix)
Neil Young - Chrome Dreams II
Ringo Starr - "Back Off Boogaloo"
Justin Timberlake - "Until The End of Time"

Monday, October 15, 2007

This love project

Until I read this today, I'd wrestled for months on how to articulate the tuneful horribleness of Of Montreal's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?; which is to say, a lot of these songs inspire horror, but I've been nervous about plumbing their depths. The only song that made me really enthusiastic is "The Past is a Grotesque Animal," which is five-sixths of a great title until Montreal scion Kevin Barnes assumes that "animal" has more specificity than "thing"; the oddness of this metaphor says a lot more about a certain indie mindset than SFJ's temperate essay.

Listening to "The Past..." this afternoon a few minutes after finishing Bob Dylan's equally endless 1997 "Highlands" (all told, the consumption of both songs took about 16 hours of my day), it struck me: the Of Montreal track is the boho update. As Barnes recounts, praises, laments, and chews over a relationship powerful enough to inspire a twelve-minute song, his monomania is so ridiculously inappropriate that "The Past..." becomes powerful in a way that the album's other (shorter) numbers never approach. The way Dylan's "Highlands" is mixed, the instruments might as well be programmed into a Synclavier; the metronomic chords and unyielding sobriety of Dylan's vocal are ambient washes, with discrete phrases and allusions poking their heads out of the tide. Similarly the tepid programmed beats of "The Past..." suggest an exhaustion with form. For both these romantic casualties the only way to plumb their pain is to find the most predictable forms and elongate them to the breaking point. Erica Jong is Dylan's signifier of solidarity with the concerns of womanhood (I doubt he'd even dignify it by citing "feminism"), "Neil Young" his musical one, presumably the introspective Young of On The Beach. In Barnes' song, "George Bataille" has the weight of a compatible astrological sign -- if I didn't think that Barnes really believed that meeting the first cute girl who read The Story of the Eye was kismet. And maybe he believes in the cleverness of using rote business school jargon like "Our love project has so much potential"; it might have excited Gary Numan's transistors had not Barnes also included, "Somehow you've red-rovered the Gestapo circling my heart," which suggests that he knows Sylvia Plath's "Daddy" by heart. Meanwhile Dylan's so bummed that he can't keep himself awake through most of his song. I haven't been in enough devastating relationships to distinguish between the least meretricious and the most dishonest of the two; these songs elide the distinctions, I think.
This is encouraging.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The fixer

One of the great Hollywood mysteries of the last thirty years is why an actor as incisive as Sydney Pollack directs such lumpen movies. With the exception of They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and the marvelous Tootsie (and it is a marvel, considering the monstrous egos of everyone involved and the pay-as-you-go gestation of its script), his movies define middlebrow plod. He wants to be William Wyler when he's more like Edmund Golding. His films get financed because he knows everybody and there's still old-timers who think the lethargy of The Interpreter represents, in the age of comic book adaptations, "classic" Hollywood filmmaking. It's the subtext of the reviews for these movies themselves: the lethargy is a relief, like walking into the TV room of a nursing home after spending the morning at a first grader's birthday party.

Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton's gotten excellent reviews in large part due to George Clooney's furrowed-brow turn as a fixer who can't decide whether to accept the fact that he's got a conscience, and, accepting its limitations (like its misconceived conclusion, despite giving Tilda Swinton a good chance to project that scary open-mouthed blankness she's so good at), it earns its acclaim. Gilroy's isn't a fluid director yet; the first third seems needlessly complicated, hindered by Tom Wilkinson's purploid voice-overs, a scene that has no dramatic payoff, and underwritten expositions. While it's a rare virtue that a Hollywood insider like Gilroy (the adaptor of the Bourne films) trusts the audience enough to figure out who's doing what to whom, he forgets to clarify important relationships until midpoint. Still, the dialogue crackles (not what you'd expect from the adaptator of those Bourne movies) and Gilroy mitigates the material's inherent sentimentality. Clayton isn't a slickster -- unlike, say, John Travolta in A Civil Action or Julia Robert's noble cleavage in Erin Brokovich, he looks as if he's felt like shit for being a shit for years (this film should put to rest the self-perpetuating myth of Clooney's handsomeness). His family means little to him, it's clear; a couple of exchanges between him and his brothers hint at an extinct intimacy. He loves his son, maybe (a scene between them in a parked car after a tense sibling confrontation is the best acting of Clooney's career). He maintains a sliver of self-respect by imagining that he cudda been a contender. Gilroy doesn't spoil it by including honey-hued flashbacks to Clayton's better days -- he didn't have any, as Sydney Pollack reminds him in one scene of quiet but muscular brutality.

Pollack's the ultimate character actor fixer: when you want late middle-aged angst delivered with a touch of Tabasco, he's your go-to guy. His work here is a new crinkle. As Pollack has aged, so have his characters become resigned to their fates. In Tootsie and, in his greatest role, Husbands and Wives, he was a whiz at cutting through crap with jabs and feints; he didn't let his co-stars breathe. In Michael Clayton he's really slowed down. As the mouthpiece for Gilroy's mordant takedown of global plutocracy (right, as if you thought any filmmaker would celebrate it), he says each line thoughtfully, without emphasis -- quite differently than the younger Pollack or even Wilkinson himself would have essayed it; you can understand why this methodical man is the law firm's senior partner while Wilkinson's the feared litigator. When he calls Clayton "soft," he sounds hurt and, of all things, disillusioned, as if the world is so corrupt that it's taught Michael Clayton to become repulsed by corruption. "We always knew this case reeked," he admits, lingering just for a moment on the pronoun -- a subtle way of branding Clayton an outsider, the one who never got it; or it's a gentle reminder that Clayton, in joining the firm fifteen years ago, signed a deal with Satan. It's not a stretch to imagine Clooney like this in fifteen years, when the camaraderie and profits of Ocean's 23 can't assuage the tension between Vanity Fair/GQ playboyhood and his own ideas of what constitutes honest filmmaking and acting.

Now there are unconfirmed rumours that Pollack's got terminal stomach cancer. Best of luck to him.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Doris Lessing!

One of those titans who've quietly accumulated a considerable body of work and assumed won the Nobel Prize years ago. Anyway, she finally has. I've read not a word by her, and feel guilty about it. The Golden Notebook's been on my short (well, by now long) list for years; and while I care little about science-fiction as a genre, some of her work comes highly recommended. Any recommendations or demurrals would surely be welcome.

On another note, I was most struck by today by how beautiful this octogenarian looks. A bit like Gertrude Stein, untouched by the malice or guile.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Chart flashback

According to this ILM thread, the following were among the videos played during MTV's first broadcast on August 1, 1981:

1. "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles
2. "You Better Run" by Pat Benatar
3. "She Won't Dance" by Rod Stewart
4. "You Better You Bet" by The Who
5. "Little Susie's on the Up" by Ph.D.
6. "We Don't Talk Anymore" by Cliff Richard
7. "Brass in Pocket" by The Pretenders
8. "Time Heals" by Todd Rundgren
9. "Take It on the Run" by REO Speedwagon
10. "Rockin' the Paradise" by Styx
11. "When Things Go Wrong" by Robin Lane and the Chartbusters
12. "History Never Repeats" by Split Enz
13. "Hold On Loosely" by 38 Special
14. "Just Between You and Me" by April Wine
15. "Sailing" by Rod Stewart
16. "Iron Maiden" by Iron Maiden
17. "Keep On Loving You" by REO Speedwagon
18. "Message of Love" by The Pretenders
19. "Mr. Briefcase" by Lee Ritenour
20. "Double Life" by The Cars
21. "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins
22. "Looking For Clues" by Robert Palmer
23. "Too Late" by Shoes
24. "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" by Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty
25. "Surface Tension" by Rupert Hine
26. "One Step Ahead" by Split Enz
27. "Baker Street" by Gerry Rafferty
28. "I'm Gonna Follow You" by Pat Benatar
29. "Savannah Nights" by Tom Johnston
30. "Lucille" by Rockestra

A few things:

(a) I'm struck by how many videos for second-tier songs Rod Stewart had made by summer '81.
(b) Megaproducer Rupert Hine (Rush, Stevie Nicks) had a solo hit?
(d) AOR dinosaurs roamed the earth.
(e) I need to consult AllMusic about Shoe, Lee Ritenour, Ph.D, and, um, April Wine.
(f) I'm pretty sure these 30 videos were repeated two dozen times a day.

Since my MTV options were limited to what I could watch at friends' houses, the monitors at major department stores, and "Friday Night Video" (I didn't get cable till 2000), I have to depend on my readers' input here. Any other great stuff you remember from the early days?

Monday, October 8, 2007

Anthony's the biggest Electric Six fan I know, so I'm curious to know what he thinks of The New One With The Long-Ass Title; it's pretty good to almost great.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Of bootlegs and such

Reading Ned's series of posts on listening to Radiohead over the years, it occurred to me: I own very few bootleg recordings. He discusses owning scads of Boo Radleys stuff; meanwhile, in a good friend's car last night, I marveled at the sheer volume of Pearl Jam live shit he owned -- I mean, stuff beyond the 642 "official" bootlegs they released a few years ago. while I can't think of more than one CD-R worth of let's say extra-commercial material I own by my favorite bands. Geography gets some of the blame: Miami's a big city, but we have only two-count'em-two indie record stores. But I gotta admit to a certain disinterest in trolling fan sites and file sharing programs looking for, say, late '95 Bjork club shows (of which I own a couple of performances, actually). There's only so many hours in the day, I have too many other interests, not enough storage capacity at home, and, as anyone who knows me will confirm, the number of songs stored on my hard drive runs into the low double digits (I still burn lots of CD-R's, which returns us to the space question). Thank the gods for YouTube, which has helped me finds lots of archival footage without my ever having to own it.

What say you? If you own lots of bootleg stuff, what motivates you -- completism? fandom? neurosis?
One of my crucial influences gets the Library of America treatment. Charles McGrath's essay is a good place to start learning about the man.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Baby's gonna cry

I have a lot of affection for Annie Lennox. "Here Comes the Rain Again" was the first 45 I ever bought with my own money (the first album: Wham!'s Make It Big, of course). It was moody, mysterious, and indescribably sexy in grade school. So I endured most of Eurythmics' stylistic shifts over the next few years, even when it was rather obvious that synth-dominated AC would be Lennox's metier, as augured by 1989's "Don't Ask Me Why," their last Top 40 hit (and, I think, the last new 45 I bought).

This is a nice way of saying that I don't hate Lennox. It pleased me when 1992's Diva scored a couple of small hits (the coquettish "Walking on Broken Glass" and the model-of-its-kind ballad "Why") and Lennox's visual instincts remained intact. Despite the lovely "No More I Love You's," Medusa was a perfectly useless covers album, containing a version of Strummer-Jones' "Train in Vain" which diligently tries to generate as little heat as possible, and a cover of Neil Young's "Don't Let It Bring You Down" which served as a creepy backdrop for Kevin Spacey's improbable seduction of a minor in American Beauty. Not even David Stewart's post-1985 hair matched this level of outrage.

Way too tasteful and agreeable, most of Songs of Mass Destruction doesn't even work as a treatment for future Lennox videos. Maybe that's her strategy: her fortysomething cult audience doesn't watch MTV or VH-1 either. But that's no reason to write airless songs which allude to nothing beyond their own gestures towards soul and meaningfulness.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Don't count on Polly Jean Harvey for predictable surprises. White Chalk, her most frustrating yet, is the kind of album you're glad to own and will no doubt play a couple of times a year -- a lasting pleasure, sure, a lasting enjoyment, maybe. I've warmed to it since I wrote this; "When Under Ether" is her most chilling recorded moment; and there's courage in Polly Jean's decision to work against her strengths. Still doesn't make the album more than a harrowing misfire.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The masterpiece business

EW avers that Bruce Springsteen "is back in the masterpiece business," as if Springsteen's masterpiece manufacturing firm was depressed and in decline since Rolling Stone's last 4.5 star review. Springsteen himself agrees -- "I wrote a lot of hooks," he told A.O. Scott in Sunday's NYT feature. The truth, unfortunately, is closer to what Theon noted in his review of Magic today: magic tricks "are so thin and fragile—let the light touch them the wrong way and the audience won't even understand what they were meant to be." I'll go farther: the audience understands, all right, and so does Bruce, but the messages aren't interesting. Twenty three years since Born In The U.S.A., he's still most compelling when, like the Prince of "1999," he's dancing at the edge of apocalypse. He's too old to write teary-beery anthems and not intelligent enough to illumine those post-Dust Bowl with which he delights the editors of Rolling Stone and scares the rest of us. After a few plays "Radio Nowhere" starts to sound like somewhere -- the demilitarized zone that Bob Dylan saw from a tour bus window which inspired the dessicated songs on Time Out of Mind. "I'll Work For Your Love"'s is unintentionally prophetic, as Springsteen works too hard to summon the magic. "...Love" even returns to Mariolatry City (thanks to Michael Chabon for the phrase), where "She's The One" was situated. The real keeper is the insinuating title track, on which Brendan O'Brien's gauche mix fits the spooky vibe.

I'm a casual fan of Springsteen's. I like a handful of songs from every album before 1980, Born in the U.S.A. a lot, and love Tunnel of Love. I profess not to hear what Greil Marcus does in 1978's "The Promised Land" (cue lyric about knife cutting pain through the heart). But as I admitted in my reassessment of Tunnel of Love, lots of his subsequent records sound like good ideas rather than finished statements. At their best they remind me of John Mellencamp records, which is odd because Mellencamp's had a far more interesting post-1987 career (the year in which he released his critical breakthrough The Lonesome Jubilee) than Broose; his double-disc comp holds up end to end better than Springsteen's Essential set.

Monday, October 1, 2007


Listening to Bruce Springsteen's new "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" whilst finishing Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach revealed the differences between aging boomers dealing with the recent past. I retract what I said to friends about the lecherous intentions in Broose's song; in comparing Springsteen to the Robert Palmer of "Some Like It Hot," I confused one paunchy men showing his age and weakness for windbag romantic poesy with another paunchy man showing his age and dick.

Anyway, the lovers in On Chesil Beach discover that their genuine love isn't enough to overcome how little their upbringing prepared them for the mystery of sex. Set on the couple's honeymoon night in 1963, with explanatory flashbacks, the novella deconstructs Frederica's self-sufficiency while affirming its/her dignity; while it's clearly a defensive gesture, McEwan doesn't treat her devotion to classical music condescendingly. The seaside milieu is well-drawn even though, from my vantage point, McEwan's skill could be fictive rather than mimetic for all I know about the English countryside (Christopher Hitchens testifies to the verisimilitude of McEwan's depiction of "the full gruesomeness" of this holiday).

Still, there's tension between the thin plot and the etiolated manner in which the narrator comments on it; we're reminded of those John Fowles or Milan Kundera novels whose authors can't leave well enough alone, even when their cultivation and delineating of their narratives' finely shaded ironies is a pleasure. Another pleasure: how McEwan has learned how to integrate a predilection for surprise endings and springing horrors on his characters. From the casual way in which Edward's mother suffered permanent "brain damage" after an exiting passenger slams a train door against her head, to how repulsively yet convincingly the wedding night descends into a comedic horror show, this is life observed with a watchful eye, careful not to confuse fidelity with realism. The McEwan novel I was most reminded of was Black Dogs, in which the author posits a future -- and a past -- for a couple as deeply in love as Edward and Frederica. But the spare, silvery grace of the earlier novel peters out in On Chesil Beach, which is at least ten pages longer than it needs to be, especially its pat ending. McEwan's narrator comes to resemble a dinner guest telling a story well past the moment at which the servants have begun to quietly blow out the candles and put away the decanter of brandy. The pathos threatens to harden into the grimmest sort of didacticism.