Our Favorite Underrated Stuff (Pt. 5)
Pugwash, A Rose in a Garden of Weeds
Founded in 1999 by Thomas Walsh, Pugwash is a superb Irish rock band with more than 10 studio, live, and compilation albums. The 2014 compilation A Rose in a Garden of Weeds showcases the band’s memorable power-pop melodies, lush production with layers of ringing guitars and instrumental colors, and inviting vocal harmonies framing thoughtful lyrics.
Upon first hearing Pugwash I thought, here’s what a better Electric Light Orchestra would sound like. I also get a George Harrison feel from the way the songs can sound friendly and familiar then go off into unexpected chord progressions and directions. If you hear echoes of XTC, it’s no coincidence, as Pugwash has recorded four albums with XTC founder Andy Partridge’s label, and XTC guitarist Dave Gregory has contributed string arrangements.
But like any great band, Pugwash ultimately sounds like no one else. This music sounds timeless, like it could have come from 1967 or 2017.
The album’s 17 songs range from the good to the absolutely stunning, from the pop perfection (no other way to put it) of “Answers on a Postcard” to the beautiful, heartbreaking longing of “Here.” Pugwash is way more popular in their native Ireland and in Europe. But their 2017 album Silverlake is also stellar and has earned best-of accolades in Irish end-of-year polls. Maybe the rest of the world will finally catch on.
Well, I don’t know if I’d actually call this a gem. In fact, the 1999-2000 TV comedy Action is mostly in astoundingly bad taste. So this isn’t a “recommendation” per se. And yet . . . Action mercilessly and often hysterically spoofs the Hollywood movie industry in a manner insiders might consider closer to truth than satire.
The series revolves around the misadventures of movie producer Peter Dragon, sardonically played by comedian Jay Mohr. Dragon is a rude bully of a big-time producer of schlock action films but his last movie was a disastrous flop, so now the pressure is on for him to create another hit. Mayhem ensues as Dragon encounters one obstacle after another in getting the movie made, from accidentally hiring the wrong screenwriter (his name was similar to the one Dragon wanted—oops!), to playing psychiatrist to a binge-eating leading lady and substance-addled male star, to dealing with endless disasters on set and off.
Action skewers no-talent starlets, clueless executives, diva directors, sexual proclivities, racial, ethnic, and religious stereotypes, and most of all the desperation, hunger, and phoniness behind Hollywood’s glitz-and-glamour veneer. (There’s a running joke about who can and can’t get a table at the see-and-be-seen restaurant.)
The supporting cast is spot-on, especially Illeana Douglas as Wendy Ward, a world-weary actress-turned-call girl-turned-Dragon’s-girlfriend/VP at Dragonfire Films. Buddy Hackett turns in a surprisingly sympathetic performance as uncle and confidant Lonnie Dragon. There are big-name cameos and name-dropping galore.
Although Action is played as over-the-top farce, it’s not one-dimensional. Dragon’s feelings towards his daughter during Take Your Kid to Work Day are touching (even if the day ends in inevitable disaster), and his why-do-I-keep-doing-this sense of self-doubt under all the bravado lifts his character from one-dimensional to sympathetic. (Well, somewhat.) There’s heart amidst all the in-joke invective.
I remembered Action as more of a silly spoof when it first came out, and upon re-watching realize it’s far more controversial. Sometimes the lens of memory is cloudy. You may be extremely offended, and I have to note that swaths of Action are simply just cringingly bad. But if you’d like to see Hollyworld get its comedic comeuppance, and have a high tolerance for politically incorrect humor, you may find Action the ultimate inside joke.
Life moves fast—technology moves faster. So I suppose we can consider 3D TV—the buzzworthy technology only a few years past—a forgotten gem nowadays. (I’m not the only one who thinks so.) Which, considering the public’s appetite for ever-more-elaborate entertainment sort of surprises me.
Then again, maybe not. Look at the history of improved audio formats such as DVD-Audio, SACD, and hi-res digital—they’ve either croaked or been largely met with indifference. So why should 3D TV have been any different? (And who knows, maybe even HDTV would still be a pipe dream had digital TV not been federally mandated.)
Still, I’m willing to bet, whether optimistically or pragmatically, that 3D TV will make a comeback. People want their entertainment bigger, more dazzling, more explosive, more realistic. And 3D has been embraced by virtual reality and gaming fans, and IMAX 3D doesn’t look like it’s going away.
Perhaps getting rid of cumbersome goggles via autostereoscopy or 4K 3D will be the catalyst. Maybe the first 3D TVs were too expensive. But in our technological journey from the Edison cylinder to the Star Trek Holodeck, I’m thinking 3D TV is forgotten but not gone.
Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.